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Time to seek redeployment of tactical nuclear weapons in S. Korea

Time to seek redeployment of tactical nuclear weapons in S. Korea

Posted February. 18, 2016 07:25,   

Updated February. 18, 2016 07:32


South Korea and the United States reportedly discussed the issue of redeploying U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in the South after North Korea's fourth nuclear test on January 6. Washington is said to have opposed any redeployment for fear of intensifying tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Some senior members of society issued a statement on Wednesday, urging the South Korean government to declare the abolishment of the Joint Declaration of the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and start discussing the redeployment issue with the U.S. We believe that now is the time to seriously consider redeploying the U.S. Forces Korea's tactical nuclear weapons, which were withdrawn from South Korea following the 1991 joint declaration.

Calls for Seoul's nuclear armament was reiterated by Won Yoo-chul, the floor leader of the ruling Saenuri Party, in his parliamentary speech on Monday. It was abrupt that the ruling party's floor leader raised the issue of Seoul's nuclear armament, which had been dismissed by the administration. Although Kim Moo-sung, the ruling party's chief, dismissed Won's proposal as a "personal opinion," the fact that a personal opinion made it into the floor leader's speech expressing the party's official positions on various issues shows the ruling party's disorderly situation. If South Korea pursued its nuclear armament through independent nuclear development, it would have to risk its alliance with Washington, the bastion of Seoul's national security, and the removal of the U.S. nuclear umbrella. A country depending on international trade for economic growth cannot choose to implement isolationist policies as the North does.

At a time when it is only a matter of time before Pyongyang deploys nuclear missiles to active duty, as President Park Geun-hye said in her speech to the National Assembly on Tuesday, the Korean public is uneasy about holding on to the virtually abolished joint declaration and depending entirely on the U.S. nuclear umbrella. At her New Year's news conference, President Park expressed her negative position on the redeployment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons, saying that Seoul would end up breaking its promise with the international community. However, that was before Pyongyang made a series of provocations with a nuclear test and a long-range missile launch. Now that Seoul is in an urgent situation, it is time to put the tactical nuclear redeployment on the negotiation table with Washington. The U.S. think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies said in a report submitted to the U.S. government that forward deployment of tactical nuclear weapons could send a clearer message to Pyongyang that Washington would promptly respond to the North's nuclear provocation.

A tactical nuclear redeployment does not violate the 1974 South Korea-U.S. nuclear agreement or the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Seoul joined in 1975. The key lies in persuading Washington. South Korea could offer more flexibility, if necessary. It is worth considering a conditional redeployment proposed in 2011 by Gary Samore, then White House coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction, proliferation and terrorism. Under the proposal, the U.S. would redeploy its tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea but withdraw them if the North's denuclearization is achieved. It can also be considered to link the redeployment to the denuclearization negotiations with the North. With a set redeployment deadline, the plan would be scrapped if a denuclearization agreement is reached by the deadline, or implemented if the denuclearization talks collapse. While nuclear weapons are the only symmetry toward the North's nuclear weapons, our discussions should be focused on securing tactical nuclear weapons that can be accepted by the U.S. and the international community.

박제균논설위원 phark@donga.com