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The US Should Support South Korea’s Nuclear Submarine Aspirations

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The United States, United Kingdom, and Australia announced last week that the three will cooperate to allow Australia to develop a nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN). This new pact, dubbed AUKUS, will significantly strengthen the trilateral Australia-U.K.-U.S. relationship, bolstering Australia’s ability to project power throughout the Indo-Pacific region and helping to offset China’s rising naval capabilities. It also presents an opportunity for the United States to rethink its stance on the SSN aspirations of another critical Indo-Pacific ally: South Korea.

Seoul has repeatedly expressed its interest in either purchasing or producing a SSN. Former President Roh Moo-hyun launched a covert effort to explore nuclear propulsion in 2003, and current President Moon Jae-in has emphasized the South Korean need for an SSN force. However, despite South Korea’s longstanding interest in this platform, the United States has been reluctant to provide assistance due to non-proliferation concerns. The Dong-A Ilbo reported that the Trump administration rebuffed South Korean entreaties for low-enriched uranium for naval reactors in 2020.

We argue that the United States should reconsider its decision to withhold support for a South Korea SSN program. The U.S. needs more........

© The Diplomat

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