By Park Jung-won

On Nov. 18, North Korea succeeded in test-firing a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the Hwasong-17. If shot at a normal angle, the entire United States mainland would be within range. South Korea and the U.S. issued a limited response. With little possibility of deterring North Korea from its recent aggressive moves, the U.S. and South Korea conducted joint aerial drills and announced a strengthening of their joint defense posture.

A new Cold War order is being cemented by events such as Russia's invasion of Ukraine, China's military threats to Taiwan and North Korea's consecutive missile provocations. Discussion of North Korea's "denuclearization" is increasingly perceived as futile, while the less desirable pursuit of "peace with nuclear power" is rapidly taking its place. Meanwhile, China, the country with the greatest influence on North Korea, has rejected South Korea's demand to make sincere efforts to curb the North's reckless provocations.

In 2018, there were many scholars and politicians who held an optimistic view towards North Korea's denuclearization in the atmosphere of reconciliation between the two Koreas and the North and the U.S. At the time, they said that North Korea's nuclear weapons program was only a bargaining tool, claiming that denuclearization could be achieved by guaranteeing regime security for the North's leader, Kim Jong-un. They explained that North Korea's nuclear weapons development was not an end itself, but just a means. Where are these optimists and why are they silent now?

The past 30 years of efforts to denuclearize North Korea have been a complete failure, and both liberal and conservative governments in South Korea are responsible. At a time when North Korea's nuclear armament has become an irreversible reality, partisan political bickering between South Korea's progressives and conservatives demonstrates a wholly inadequate response to the security challenge faced by the country.

At this point, one cannot help but ask: What on earth are South Korean politicians doing in the midst of a desperate national security crisis? Politics is an area in which priorities for national issues are set, and national capabilities and available assets are implemented and deployed. What path is South Korean politics taking the country on now that all signals on and outside the Korean Peninsula, from North Korea, China, Russia and even the ambiguously determined U.S., point to an unprecedented national security crisis for South Korea?

While the ruling party may be the greatest target for criticism, South Korea's opposition parties also cannot escape responsibility when it comes to national security issues. Lee Jae-myung, chairman of the Democratic Party, has displayed a shockingly naive understanding of security issues on the Korean Peninsula. He demonstrated this failure to comprehend the security problem when commenting on the joint naval exercises between South Korea, the U.S., and Japan in response to North Korea's nuclear threats and missile provocations.

He asked why South Korea should receive military assistance from Japan, which had in the past dominated the Korean Peninsula during decades of colonial rule. If one follows his logic, it is hard to explain why France, which had been occupied by Germany for four years during World War II, eventually became a member of NATO alongside Germany. How could he explain why the United States and Japan ― which fought so bitterly during the same war that atomic bombs were used to end ― have now formed a military alliance?

If a war breaks out on the Korean Peninsula, Japan will necessarily become a base for supporting troops and military supplies for U.S.-led military operations to defend the South. Those who cannot admit this reality are stuck in the past and mired in romantic nationalism that puts the "nation" above any other value, including the survival of South Korea's democracy. They have supported providing food and other assistance to the North even as it developed nuclear weapons and launched missiles.

They have consistently insisted on a conditional easing of U.N. sanctions on the North in line with the Moon Jae-in administration's stance that North Korea's willingness to denuclearize is definite and clear. They should reflect on the fact that the result is that North Korea has only bought time to upgrade its nuclear capabilities during the process.

At the South Korea-U.S. Security Consultative Meeting (SCM) held in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 3, the defense ministers of the two countries reaffirmed their commitment to deploy strategic assets on the Korean Peninsula. But rather than envisioning the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons directly in South Korea, they argued that deploying strategic assets in a timely manner will have a similar effect.

In the event of an attack by North Korea on the South, it would take at least two hours for such strategic assets to arrive from Guam, by which time South Korea may already have been devastated. The reason why South Korea should have its own nuclear deterrence capability is that it wants to secure peace without nuclear war.

If Yoon Suk-yeol's government fails properly to exercise its right to withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), in deference to the U.S. and the international community, it will continue to be a mockery of North Korea. The Yoon administration needs to make a public declaration that it will have no choice but to withdraw from the NPT if the North test-fires another ICBM or conducts a nuclear test again.

It should stress to the U.S. that if South Korea continues to rely solely on the U.S. nuclear umbrella while ruling out its own nuclear armament option, the U.S. mainland will only be further threatened by North Korea's expanding nuclear weapons and missile capabilities. Better late than never.


Park Jung-won (park_jungwon@hotmail.com), Ph.D. in law from the London School of Economics (LSE), is a professor of international law at Dankook University.



QOSHE - South Korea needs its own nuclear deterrent - Park Jung-Won
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South Korea needs its own nuclear deterrent

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01.12.2022

By Park Jung-won

On Nov. 18, North Korea succeeded in test-firing a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the Hwasong-17. If shot at a normal angle, the entire United States mainland would be within range. South Korea and the U.S. issued a limited response. With little possibility of deterring North Korea from its recent aggressive moves, the U.S. and South Korea conducted joint aerial drills and announced a strengthening of their joint defense posture.

A new Cold War order is being cemented by events such as Russia's invasion of Ukraine, China's military threats to Taiwan and North Korea's consecutive missile provocations. Discussion of North Korea's "denuclearization" is increasingly perceived as futile, while the less desirable pursuit of "peace with nuclear power" is rapidly taking its place. Meanwhile, China, the country with the greatest influence on North Korea, has rejected South Korea's demand to make sincere efforts to curb the North's reckless provocations.

In 2018, there were many scholars and politicians who held an optimistic view towards North Korea's denuclearization in the atmosphere of reconciliation between the two Koreas and the North and the U.S. At the time, they said that North Korea's nuclear weapons program was only a bargaining tool, claiming that denuclearization could be achieved by guaranteeing regime security for the North's leader, Kim Jong-un. They explained that North Korea's nuclear weapons development was not an end itself, but just a means. Where are........

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