Seoul needs nuclear subs

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Seoul needs nuclear subs

It feels like we are on the brink of a war. The South Korean military has devised a plan to devastate a certain area in Pyongyang if North Korea shows any sign of using its nuclear arms.

That is a naïve operation plan. If a North Korean nuclear attack is detected in advance, the combined forces of South Korea and the United States will reduce all North Korea to ashes, not just a section of Pyongyang. It is also naïve to think that Kim Jong-un would order a nuclear attack — or an attack by conventional forces, for that matter — while sitting in his office in Pyongyang or his special retreat in Ryongsong.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter is also jumping on the bandwagon. In a speech at the Hoover Institute on Sept. 19, he said, “The slogan of U.S. Forces Korea, as many of you probably know, is ‘Fight tonight.’ Not because that’s what we want to do but because that’s what we have to be able to do. And we are ready to do.” “Fight tonight” is an order to be ready to fight at any time.

Michael Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, publically mentioned a preemptive strike on the North at a Council of Foreign Relations debate. If the North has the ability to attack the United States and makes a threat, a preemptive strike on the North is a self-defense option, he said. But what Mullen described is more of a “preventive” strike than a “preemptive” strike.

A preventive strike is a strike at the enemy even without any imminent sign of attack — in case there is the possibility of an attack in a foreseeable future. The recent dispatch of B-1B and B-52 strategic bombers from Guam to the South was a message that a preventive strike is possible in order to deter Kim’s intention to stage a provocation.

Our strategy of massive retaliation and the U.S. preventive and preemptive strikes all mean a state of war. In other words, it means that a war already broke out by the North’s attacks or a war was triggered by the South Korea-U.S. allied forces’ preemptive or preventive strikes. Based on various simulations, 400,000 people will immediately die — and 220,000 more will subsequently die — when a nuclear bomb as strong as the one dropped on Hiroshima drops on central Seoul. At the moment of detonation, a nuclear bomb will raise the surface temperature to 4,000 degrees Celsius (7,232 degrees Farenheit). No life form in the northern areas of South Korea can survive this murderous temperature.

That is why preventing a war is the ultimate necessity. That is why peaceful management of the national division is a must. And that is why we must use a two-track policy of pressure and dialogue. Just as the North’s provocation will be its attempt at self-destruction, our preemptive — and preventive — strikes are our attempt at self-destruction.

Therefore, it is crucial for the South to retain a stronger offensive deterrence to subdue Kim’s desire to stage a provocation. And only the United States has that capacity. South Korea’s Kill-Chain and the Korea Air Missile Defense System (KAMD) are scheduled to be completed between 2023 and 2025. Until then, the North will arm itself further with submarine-launched ballistic missiles and replace its diesel-powered submarines with nuclear submarines. That will create a fatal weakness in our strategies.

A nuclear submarine is capable of sailing a long distance underwater at high speed. Thrilled by the successful launch of a submarine-launched ballistic missile on Aug. 24, Kim Jong-un ordered the military to develop a nuclear submarine by 2018. We must prepare for the day when the North’s nuclear submarine will carry nuclear warheads and reach not only our waters but also the coastal area of the United States. A North Korean nuclear submarine with ballistic missiles can also launch fatal nuclear retaliation at the South and the United States even after North Korean territory is reduced to ashes.

We cannot rely on the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad), KAMD and Kill Chain. For the next five to 10 years, we must rely on U.S. strategic deterrence while rushing to build nuclear-powered submarines. The plan to build nine additional diesel submarines by 2030 should be sharply curtailed.

As opposed to a common misunderstanding, a nuclear-powered submarine is not a nuclear weapon. Nuclear refers to its fuel source, not its armaments. But there are obstacles we must overcome to build one.

First is the expense. While building nine 3,000-ton diesel-powered submarines costs 7.2 trillion won ($6.52 billion), a single nuclear-powered submarine costs 1.5 trillion won. In other words, four nuclear-powered submarines will cost a total of 6 trillion won.

The second obstacle is U.S. opposition. The Korea-U.S. nuclear cooperation treaty requires Seoul to obtain Washington’s permission for the use of atomic substances handed over by the United States. It prohibits the South from enriching uranium over 20 percent. But low enrichment of uranium below the level of 20 percent can be used to fuel a nuclear-submarine.

We have the shipbuilding and nuclear technologies to build a nuclear-powered submarine. Low-enriched uranium can be purchased freely on the international market.

If the U.S. still opposes, we should respond that we must have a nuclear-powered submarine for self-defense by pointing to the North’s nuclear and missile developments. “If you want to oppose our plan to have nuclear submarines, you should deploy nuclear submarines with nuclear warheads to the East Sea to aim at the North,” we must say. “You also should allow our crew to board the submarines to share your strategy and information.”

We must say confidently, “Top military brass and elite diplomats, you are not the pawns of the U.S. military-industrial complex and the U.S. defense and state departments. You are the pawns of the people of the Republic of Korea.”

JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 20, Page 35

*The author is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Kim Young-hie
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