Experts divided in support of nation’s nuclear armament

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Experts divided in support of nation’s nuclear armament

After Pyongyang’s fifth nuclear test earlier this month, South Korean politicians are now split between those who support the nation’s nuclear armament and those who stand opposed.

On Sept. 12, a group of 31 ruling Saenuri Party lawmakers released a statement calling for a parliamentary special committee to discuss South Korea’s independent nuclear armament.

Rep. Won Yoo-chul, a former Saenuri floor leader, said South Korea must “consider all measures to deter North Korea’s provocations, including nuclear armament for the purpose of self-defense.”

“Since we’ve already crossed the river in terms of the denuclearization of the peninsula,” said Saenuri Rep. Hong Moon-jong, a four-term lawmaker of the foreign affairs and unification committee, “South Korea needs nuclear arms, as well.”

He added, “Nuclear armament isn’t just a minority opinion within the party, either.”

But opposition lawmakers have said the nuclear armament of South Korea is unrealistic and would only aggravate matters.

Youn Kwan-suk, a spokesman of the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea, said in a briefing, “It is unspeakable to deter nuclear arms with nuclear arms and this will only push the Korean Peninsula into greater danger and uncertainty.”

As the debate continues to overheat, the JoongAng Ilbo earlier this month conducted interviews with 16 security and foreign affairs experts concerning the nuclear armament of South Korea.

These experts were generally divided into three groups, with the majority pushing for denuclearization. According to the survey, nine advocated denuclearization, four were for the South’s nuclear armament and three were for the use of nuclear arms.

The experts for nuclear armament included many conservatives who also thought that South Korea should develop its own nuclear arms.

Those who called for denuclearization were mostly liberals, while those who called for the use of nuclear arms pointed out that because of the growing threat North Korea presents, tactical nuclear weapons should be redeployed to South Korea to strengthen its defensive capabilities.

But experts who endorsed denuclearization said nuclear armament would come with a price, pointing out that the United States would strongly contest it and that this could form a fracture in the international community and would erode the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

“In order to development nuclear weapons, we would need to withdraw from the NPT,” said Kim Young-soo, a political science professor at Sogang University. “Nuclear armament isn’t something we do just on an impulse because we feel like it.”

Likewise, Park Byung-kwang, a senior researcher with the Institute for National Security Strategy, said, “While we are under the United States’ nuclear umbrella, the nuclear armament of its allied country is totally unrealistic.”

“There is a zero percent possibility that the United States would allow South Korea’s nuclear armament,” said Park In-hui, a professor at the Graduate School for International Studies of Ewha Womans University. “Our economy is closely connected to the global market and there are too many obstacles considering South Korea’s role in the world today.”

Chang Yong-seok, a senior researcher with Seoul National University’s Institute for Peace and Unification studies, said that the South’s nuclear armament would “send the wrong message to North Korea — that nuclear armament is acceptable.”
He continued, “We can make use of the United States’ nuclear weapons, so there is no need for us to de
velop our own.”
Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea studies professor at Dongguk University, said, “While demanding North Korea to scrap its nuclear program, we would end up playing the same game as them. This would put an end to denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula.”

But some experts, like Cheong Seong-chang, director of the Unification Strategy Studies Department at Sejong Institute, expressed support for the proposition.

“Because the international community does not have the ability to persuade North Korea to denuclearize, South Korea’s independent nuclear armament is a rational response,” said Cheong, adding that because the United States had destroyed most of its nuclear warheads and torpedoes and land mines, “it will be difficult to redeploy its tactical nuclear weapons.”

The United States withdrew it’s tactical nuclear weapons from Korea in 1991.

Choi Jin-wook, president of the Korea Institute for National Unification, likewise said, “If North Korea is recognized as a nuclear state, our nuclear armament will be inevitable. First, we will have to acquire tactical nuclear weapons, and afterward, based on the situation, we will have to indigenously develop nuclear weapons like India or Pakistan.”

“We need to redeploy the United States’ tactical nuclear weapons,” said Kim Sung-han, an international relations professor at Korea University. “When the tactical nuclear weapons come, this gives the people peace of mind.”

“We cannot leave the fate of our people in the hands of others,” said Suh Kune-yull, a nuclear engineering professor at Seoul National University.

“With our current technology, we can develop nuclear arms in as quickly as eight months, or 12 months maximum.”

Some tread a more cautious path, yet support bringing U.S. nuclear weapons to South Korea.

“North Korea already possesses over 10 nuclear weapons,” said Park Hui-rak, a political science professor at Kookmin University. “In an emergency, the United States says it will support us, but it is going too far to break South Korean-U.S. relations in order to develop nuclear arms.

We should bring in tactical nuclear weapons and use them as a bargaining chip.”

“I am for the redeployment of tactical nuclear weapons [to South Korea],” said Choi Kang, vice president of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies. “It is quite useful because it sends a message to North Korea that nuclear weapons will be responded to with nuclear weapons. However, this will also have a cost.”


BY SPECIAL REPORTING TEAM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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