KAMD an answer to North’s nukesOnly a light-weight, small-sized nuclear bomb can be loaded on short, middle and long-range missiles. The key purpose of Pyongyang’s third nuclear test was to miniaturize its atomic weapons. After launching a long-range rocket capable of reaching the U.S. mainland, it’s only a matter of time for North Korea to join the global nuclear club as the ninth member. But the prospect of denuclearizing the recalcitrant regime is quite dim, ringing sharp alarm bells across the Korean Peninsula.
There are growing voices in South Korea to allow the redeployment of tactical nuclear weapons and to develop nuclear weapons on its own. Even though they are completely different approaches, the arguments for both have grown stronger.
The first demand for redeployment is bringing back the U.S. tactical nuclear bombs. The second argument is that South Korea must be armed independently with nuclear weapons as the U.S. nuclear umbrella is not enough to protect the security.
In 1991, the United States and the Soviet Union agreed to dismantle their tactical nuclear weapons. Barring the airborne tactical nuclear bombs, the two sides began reducing the number of bombs. In line with the process, the tactical weapons of the U.S. forces were withdrawn from South Korea. Today, America only keeps 180 tactical nuclear bombs in the six NATO member countries in Europe and another 300 in the U.S. The process could not be completed due to Moscow’s reluctance to discard its remaining tactical nuclear bombs in protest of Washington’s plan to create the missile interception network in Eastern Europe. But the real hidden motive of Russia to keep at least some of its tactical nuclear weapons is its deepening worry over the nuclear capabilities of China.
As the fate of tactical nuclear weapons rests on the agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union (now Russia), Washington cannot allow its redeployment to South Korea just because Seoul asks for it.
Gary Samore, former White House coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction, proliferation and terrorism, said that Washington would consider the redeployment if Seoul makes a strong, concerted demand. His remarks fueled the vain hope of some Koreans, but that’s just his personal view.
If the U.S. tactical weapons are redeployed to South Korea, centrist and leftist civic groups will rise en masse and stage anti-American, antinuclear and antigovernment demonstrations. No administration will be willing to take up the enormous political burden.
The argument that Seoul must develop its own nuclear weapons is even more dangerous. To do so, we have to walk out from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. In that case, the United States and the international community will lose their leverage to stop the nuclear developments of North Korea and Iran. South Korea will be isolated in the global community and it probably have to endure economic sanctions down the road.
The agreement for cooperation between Seoul and Washington concerning civil use of atomic energy is even tougher. Bounded by the accord, South Korea is banned from reprocessing wasted nuclear fuel and enriching uranium. Dr. Kim Tae-woo, a nuclear strategist, compared nuclear development without nuclear reprocessing and enrichment to “a woman without a uterus attempting to get pregnant.”
Washington is concerned that the move will provoke nuclear development from Japan and Taiwan. So, the U.S. will join hands with China, Russia, the U.K. and France to pressure South Korea. Will the Korea-U.S. alliance survive this? Would we be willing to break the ties to counter the North’s nuclear arms programs? That’s unimaginable.
North Korea’s nuclear threat is increasingly becoming a reality, while China is only acting as if it will punish the North. The United States is tacitly accepting the North’s nuclear weapons as a fait accompli and is poised to shift its policy toward stopping the proliferation of Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile technologies to Iran and Syria and other international terrorist groups.
Dr. Kim said the United States should redeploy and possess tactical nuclear bombs while operating them jointly with South Korea. That’s the nuclear sharing policy currently being implemented in NATO. But since it is a type of tactical nuclear weapons deployment, Washington will hardly agree to it.
The remaining option will then be reinforcement of our deterrent forces. The strongest will be deploying a U.S. nuclear submarine carrying tactical nuclear bombs to the East Sea to threaten and monitor North Korea on a constant basis. The U.S. nuclear umbrella and deterrent power, too, must be thoroughly checked and reinforced.
We must also hurry to complete the establishment of the “kill-chain” to preemptively take out a target in North Korea if there is a clear sign of attack and the development of new missiles with ranges capable of reaching all of North Korean territory.
At the same time, the agreement for cooperation between Seoul and Washington concerning civil use of atomic energy - which expires next year - should be renegotiated so that South Korea will be allowed to reprocess and enrich nuclear materials in order to show Washington and Beijing that we will go ahead with independent nuclear weapons development if the North’s nuclear programs are left unresolved. Reprocessing of the used nuclear fuel and uranium enrichment do not constitute a violation of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
If the Park Geun-hye administration fails to achieve these goals, the new government won’t be able to dissuade the argument that we must preemptively strike the North. With less than 20 percent success rate of the U.S. missile defense system, we can hardly stop more than 1,000 missiles flying from the North. Seoul must turn down Washington’s request to join the U.S. missile defense shield and instead invest in building the Korean Air and Missile Defense.
The author is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.