Calls for equipping South Korea with nuclear weapons are gaining momentum, spearheaded by prominent politicians and noted experts. They emphasize the inevitability of the Republic of Korea’s (ROK) nuclear armament as an essential measure for ensuring its survival amid ever-escalating security risks.

The argument for nuclear armament is gaining traction amid allegations that it is precarious to entrust ROK’s security solely to the alliance with the United States. Recently, Rep. Na Kyung-won of the ruling People Power Party (PPP) hosted a security forum at the National Assembly attended by renowned security-related lawmakers and experts.

Among them was Kim Tae-woo from the Korea Institute for Military Affairs (KIMA). Kim raised the possibility of North Korea attempting to seize Yeonpyeong or Baengnyeong islands in the West Sea in a blitzkrieg invasion. “This will be the worst-case scenario that can easily spread to the entire Korean Peninsula,” Kim said.

Kim’s remarks draw special attention as the two islands, located in the controversial Northern Limit Line, have been most vulnerable to past North Korean provocations.

Emboldened by the recent comprehensive military cooperation deal with Russia, Pyongyang will likely adopt more audacious provocations. Its bids to build up nuclear and missile capabilities will continue unabated amid growing prospects for Donald Trump to win in the forthcoming presidential election. The chance for Trump’s victory has picked up further impetus, boosted by increasing seniority risks involving his rival U.S. President Joe Biden as seen during a TV debate.

Many experts agree that should Trump be re-elected, he will attempt to freeze the North’s nuclear activities rather than push for complete denuclearization, thus aggravating the nuclear risk for the ROK.

As nuclear weapons are an asymmetric power, they negate the strengths of conventional military prowess. In the forum, Kim likened the current situation to a glass bottle containing a poisonous scorpion and a bug.

The significance of the ROK-U.S. alliance cannot be overemphasized. Yet the ROK must not rely its security entirely on the “virtuous will” of the U.S. With the U.S. engaged in persistent conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East and potential scenarios such as China’s possible aggression toward Taiwan, the U.S. may struggle to fully assist the ROK.

Trump has been adopting business-like approaches in dealing with security issues as well as in economic matters under the motto of America First and “Make America Great Again (MAGA).”

Trump’s possible win could further complicate matters, as he might use the reduction or withdrawal of U.S. forces stationed in the ROK as leverage for a drastic hike in expenses for keeping the U.S. troops here. Encouragingly, Christopher Miller, a potential candidate for defense secretary in a possible future Trump administration, is considered to be open to the ROK’s nuclear armament.

Critics point out the difficulties in proceeding with the nuclear development, which would require secrecy and could trigger international retaliation and criticism for breaking denuclearization pacts, plus a possible domino effect impacting Japan and Taiwan.

Despite these criticisms, the dire need for survival could outweigh such concerns. ROK has solidified its stance as a leader in high-tech industries such as semiconductors and batteries. Now it is also cementing its status as a global pivotal state.

The Yoon Suk Yeol administration should engage in close consultations with neighboring countries including the U.S. It needs to bolster the ROK-U.S. alliance and consider a collective defense declaration with the U.S. and Japan.

Efforts are also needed to mend soured ties with Russia and China. The recent departure of Chinese Ambassador Xing Haiming and the envisioned visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping should pave the way for better bilateral relations.

Additionally, fortifying relations with NATO member states is crucial. President Yoon’s current mission to discuss with NATO nations could explore ways for the ROK to share tactical nuclear weapons as NATO does.

Emeritus Prof. Cho Byung-jae of Kyungnam University, in his newly published book, said Trump’s possible return will be an epoch-making event in world history and can be a starting point for a great upheaval for South Korea which has been under absolute U.S. influence.

“Trump has been maintaining an open approach toward changing the status quo on the Korean Peninsula. Should this lead to the possible perpetuation of peace on the peninsula, it is welcome. We can imagine a mega deal transcending all possible knotty issues such as a nuclear program, in particular, along with the North’s relations with the U.S. and Japan. Efforts are needed to make the most of Trump’s comeback as a previous chance,” said Cho, who was a career diplomat mainly in charge of U.S. affairs and chancellor of the Korea National Diplomatic Academy (KNDA).

South Korea stands at a crucial juncture, facing grave security challenges. While the pursuit of nuclear armament comes with substantial risks and criticisms, it is increasingly seen as a necessary measure for ensuring national security and survival. Nuanced and strategic diplomatic efforts coupled with strengthened alliances will be crucial in navigating these complex and potentially disastrous waters.

QOSHE - South Korea at crucial nuclear juncture - Shim Jae-Yun
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South Korea at crucial nuclear juncture

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10.07.2024

Calls for equipping South Korea with nuclear weapons are gaining momentum, spearheaded by prominent politicians and noted experts. They emphasize the inevitability of the Republic of Korea’s (ROK) nuclear armament as an essential measure for ensuring its survival amid ever-escalating security risks.

The argument for nuclear armament is gaining traction amid allegations that it is precarious to entrust ROK’s security solely to the alliance with the United States. Recently, Rep. Na Kyung-won of the ruling People Power Party (PPP) hosted a security forum at the National Assembly attended by renowned security-related lawmakers and experts.

Among them was Kim Tae-woo from the Korea Institute for Military Affairs (KIMA). Kim raised the possibility of North Korea attempting to seize Yeonpyeong or Baengnyeong islands in the West Sea in a blitzkrieg invasion. “This will be the worst-case scenario that can easily spread to the entire Korean Peninsula,” Kim said.

Kim’s remarks draw special attention as the two islands, located in the controversial Northern Limit Line, have been most vulnerable to past North Korean provocations.

Emboldened by the recent comprehensive military cooperation deal with Russia, Pyongyang will likely adopt more audacious provocations. Its bids to build up nuclear and missile capabilities will continue........

© The Korea Times


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