South Korea’s ruling party leader hints at the need for nuclear weapons
The leader of South Korea’s ruling party has warned that after Pyongyang’s recent spate of missile tests, the country may need to “seriously consider” developing its own nuclear weapons as a deterrent to its northern neighbor.
Chung Jin Suk, a lawmaker and leader of the conservative People Power party, told a party meeting Monday that South Korea must strengthen its ability to deter hostilities from Pyongyang, including by strengthening its “kill chain” pre-emptive strike strategy.
“We must seriously consider developing our own nuclear capabilities if such a response is not enough,” Chung said, according to South Korea’s state news agency Yonhap.
South Korea is increasingly concerned about the relentless progress of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles on Monday after a Pyongyang-claimed Hwasong 15 ICBM was fired on Saturday, which experts believe can hit the US mainland.
Last month, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he would “exponentially increase” nuclear weapons production in 2023 and stressed his willingness to use his nuclear arsenal for both offensive and defensive purposes.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol has also raised the prospect of Seoul pursuing an independent nuclear deterrent in response to escalating provocations by its northern adversary.
“When the problems get bigger, [South Korea] could use [US] tactical nuclear weapons here, or we could acquire our own nuclear weapon as well,” Yoon told defense officials and experts last month. “If that happens, it wouldn’t be long [develop] one for ourselves in a short time.”
Yoon’s comments marked the first time in the post-Cold War era that a South Korean president publicly acknowledged that Seoul could acquire its own nuclear weapons, though he has since clarified that it was not an active policy.
“The fact is that nuclear power is not a realistic option for South Korea, which President Yoon himself has acknowledged,” said Yang Uk, a defense expert at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul.
Chung also reportedly quoted former French leader Charles de Gaulle on Monday, who expressed skepticism in the 1960s that the US would risk New York to defend Paris in a nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union.
The US is firmly opposed to South Korea acquiring an independent nuclear deterrent, fearing it could spark a regional arms race that would irreparably hamper global non-proliferation efforts.
Instead, Washington is trying to persuade Seoul of its commitment to defending South Korea. In recent months, the US has deployed fighter jets and bombers capable of transporting nuclear weapons to the Korean peninsula.
“When South Korean politicians raise the possibility of acquiring nuclear weapons, their statements are primarily intended to reassure their conservative base that they are committed to defending the country,” Yang said.
“But they can also serve as useful leverage when negotiating major US commitments.”
Kim Yo Jong, Kim Jong Un’s sister, warned Monday that North Korea will respond to US nuclear-capable facilities on the Korean peninsula by turning the Pacific into a “firing range.”
“We reiterate that nothing has changed in our will to make the worst of the madmen who escalate tensions pay the price for their actions,” she said.
https://www.ft.com/content/ef4d3f20-72db-4e0e-82b6-eb36ecfc4c84 South Korea’s ruling party leader hints at the need for nuclear weapons