More talk of nukesAs North Korea’s nuclear weapons development speeds up, the argument for redeployment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea is gaining momentum. Quoting a senior White House official, NBC News reported, “The administration is not ruling out moving tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea should Seoul request them . . . though many consider such a move a nonstarter.” NBC said the idea is a significant reversal of past U.S. administrations’ firm positions favoring the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula over the last three decades. The remarkable shift represents a need for the United States to prepare an aggressive option to cope with the North’s increasing nuclear threats after its successful test of an alleged hydrogen bomb and ICBMs.
Military analysts believe that the White House official’s remarks are aimed at putting more pressure on China to stop oil supplies to North Korea to force the rogue state to give up its nuclear weapons program. Redeployment of tactical nukes is also aimed at demonstrating Washington’s determination to safeguard its allies with its nuclear umbrella amid lingering doubts about the U.S. administration’s vow to protect South Korea in the face of a nuclear attack on U.S. territories.
We can hardly decipher what the United States really wants. The Obama administration allegedly rejected a call from the Park Geun-hye government to bring the nukes back to South Korea due to Barack Obama’s strong opposition to the spread of tactical weapons. General Vincent Brooks, commander of the U.S. Forces Korea, recently joined the chorus by saying he does not support such a redeployment. It is also questionable if the U.S. Congress would really approve the redeployment in the face of opposition from Beijing and Moscow.
Domestic views are sharply split. After Defense Minister Song Young-moo raised the idea of redeployment, aides to President Moon Jae-in said the administration has never considered the idea. Meanwhile, the opposition Liberty Korea Party strongly argues for the redeployment.
The external and internal situations are turning increasingly volatile as North Korea relentlessly pursues its nuclear dream. Mexico expelled its North Korean Ambassador Monday. What attracts our attention is the noticeable change in South Koreans’ attitudes about the redeployment of the nukes. Two recent polls show that the nuclear option was backed by nearly two-thirds of the people. As the debate becomes a hot potato, the Moon administration must make a wise decision.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 12, Page 34