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The nuclear card

Sept 01,2017
In a remarkable development amid heightened tension on the Korean Peninsula, redeployment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea was mentioned at Wednesday’s meeting between defense ministers of South Korea and the United States in Washington. South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo said he mentioned arguments for the deployment from opposition parties and the press in South Korea to U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis on that day. It appears that Defense Minister Song did not say the current government wanted such a redeployment.

Even if South Korea wants Uncle Sam to redeploy nuclear weapons, it is not clear if Washington would accept it. Nevertheless, we pay special attention to our defense minister’s words that he relayed a growing call for the redevelopment from conservative parties and local media to the U.S. Defense Secretary. Song’s remarks can translate into South Korea’s warnings to Pyongyang and Beijing that Seoul also can take an aggressive step to counter North Korea’s nuclear threat. Song’s remarks could also be aimed at easing deepening security concerns among the South Korean people.

The current situation on the peninsula is volatile enough for us to keep all options on the table. Maintaining a so-called “Balance of Terror” through the deployment of the tactical nuclear arms could be one of them. Such a card could prove effective in pressuring China to play a bigger role in solving the nuclear conundrum. Therefore, conservative groups like the Liberty Korea Party and the Bareun Party as well as the People’s Party and some members of the ruling Democratic Party are calling for the redevelopment.

But they must keep in mind unwanted side effects. If nukes are placed in South Korea, the government has to backpedal on its repeated assertion that it seeks the denuclearization of the peninsula. South Korea can hardly demand North Korea abandon its nuclear weapons program if it has nuclear weapons. If something goes wrong, South Koreans must live with a constant fear of nuclear war.

The Blue House adheres to the position that it does not consider the idea of bringing nuclear weapons from the United States. Instead, Seoul believes U.S. extended deterrence is enough to ensure our security. Redeployment of tactical nuclear weapons could do more harm than good. But the public keep doubting the reliability of the U.S. nuclear umbrella. The government must find ways to ease public concerns.

JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 1, Page 30