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If threatened by nukes, South would strike first

Jan 21,2010
Upon detecting signs of an impending North Korean nuclear strike against South Korea, South Korea would launch an immediate pre-emptive attack, South Korean Defense Minister Kim Tae-young said yesterday.

South Korea could be crippled if the reclusive North strikes first with nuclear bombs, Kim said in an opening speech of the annual Northeast Asia Future Forum, which was held at the Westin Chosun Hotel in central Seoul.

The forum was co-hosted by the JoongAng Ilbo, the JoongAng Daily’s sister paper, and the Hyundai Research Institute.

“Even though controversy over the legality of launching pre-emptive strikes exists, there is a theory that allows a first strike against the North before it can make a nuclear attack,” Kim said.

“If it is not a situation where we can strike back after we are attacked, we have no choice but to strike first. We have no choice but to do so if the North shows an obvious intention to attack with its nuclear weapons,” Kim added.

The minister earlier enraged the North when he mentioned a pre-emptive strike against the North during confirmation hearings as a nominee for South Korean chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 2008.

Kim also said the recent controversy over delaying the date of the transfer of wartime operational control from the United States to South Korea is a matter that must be decided at a political level between the two countries.

“The transfer issue is not one to be tackled only by the South Korean government but by an intergovernmental political agreement,” said Kim.

The minister said the transfer does not mean a withdrawal of U.S. forces.

“U.S. forces in South Korea are likely to be redeployed to other areas, including Pyeongtaek and Osan [in Gyeonggi] and Daegu, by the end of 2017 at the latest. But the number of U.S. troopers will be maintained at around 28,500,” Kim said. “Since more than a half of U.S. soldiers are going to be assigned to stay in South Korea for three years with their families, the U.S.’s assistance to South Korea will be reinforced.”

Kim said South Korea and the U.S. have been strengthening combined surveillance capabilities on the North’s military status and movements.

He vowed to immediately respond to provocation from the North, such as the naval clash near Daecheong Island on the west coast last Nov. 14.

“It is difficult to predict, but there is a possibility that the six-party talks [aimed at dismantling the North Korean nuclear program] could be resumed following the progress in dialogue between the U.S. and the North,” the minister said. “North Korea is using both conciliatory and belligerent rhetoric. We need to maintain a strong stance toward Pyongyang while holding the door open to dialogue.”


By Lee Min-yong [smartpower@joongang.co.kr]


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