The nuclear umbrella is really needed now

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The nuclear umbrella is really needed now

After North Korea’s nuclear threats, South Korea’s security concerns are growing fast. The foundation for the South’s North Korea policy has been based on the possibility of Pyongyang denuclearizing. Now, calls are growing to fundamentally review South Korea’s security strategy by putting all available options on the table. Politicians and security experts are presenting diverse ideas such as the South having its own nuclear armaments, the redeployment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons or a sharing of U.S. nukes, as with NATO.

Each argument has reasonable aspects because nukes can only be countered by nukes. Given the potential repercussions, however, the issue is not simple. If the leadership of the People Power Party (PPP) continues talking about withdrawal from the Non-proliferation Treaty and scrapping of the 1992 Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, followed by opposition from the Democratic Party (DP), the confusion will only help North Korea.

Moreover, South Korea alone cannot arm itself with nuclear weapons or redeploy tactical nukes. Such ideas would have immense ramifications, and the Yoon Suk-yeol administration must approach the issue carefully. Instead of blindly riding on the tide or joining political offensives or responding emotionally, government officials must think before they speak — or act.

What really matters for the conservative government is getting an assurance of U.S. extended deterrence, including its nuclear umbrella. The argument for South Korea building its own nuclear armaments is rooted in the suspicion that the U.S. might not unfurl its nuclear umbrella to protect its ally at a critical moment. To effectively dispel such concerns, the Yoon administration must consider every possible scenario and devise detailed action plans. Luckily, the government has started to reactivate the Extended Deterrence Strategy and Consultation Group between vice foreign and defense ministers of the two allies. But that is just the beginning.

As North Korea continues nuclear saber-rattle, elevating the extended deterrence to the highest level is unavoidable, including the deployment of U.S. nuclear assets to the peninsula. The Yoon administration must find effective ways to elevate trust.

The alarming security situation in the peninsula does not lend itself to mistakes. If the government makes a fumble, South Koreans could live under the North Korean nuclear threat permanently. A thorough review of our security strategy is demanded. It is not the time for national division over our response to the ever-growing nuclear threat from across the border.
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