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Talk of a nuclear deterrent in South Korea

Talk of a nuclear deterrent in South Korea …

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SEOUL – The recent resumption of activity at North Korea’s Yongbyon Nuclear Complex, suspected of producing the plutonium needed for the country’s nuclear weapons, has fueled belief among some conservative South Korean politicians that Pyongyang will never agree to abandon its atomic bombs, so Seoul needs its own nuclear deterrent.

The issue has stormed into the early days of the upcoming presidential election, with the main candidates openly pushing for South Korea to deploy nuclear weapons. Yoo Seong-min, a former lawmaker and a lead candidate for the People Power Party, said he would “convince the US government to sign a nuclear weapons sharing agreement” if he becomes president. Such an agreement would enable tactical and non-strategic nuclear weapons to be stationed on South Korean soil for the first time since the end of the Cold War. Another Conservative contender, Hong Joon-pyo, has also argued that a nuclear weapons sharing agreement is needed so that South Korea does not become “slaves to North Korean nuclear weapons.”

For some in South Korea, it is not only possible about the inclusion of US weapons, but also about the development of our own. Lee Jong-kul, a representative of the Liberal Party, said South Korea should choose “tactical nuclear weapons as the final negotiating card” against North Korea. In 2017, a conservative group, the Korean Patriotic Citizens ’Union, organized protests with chants like” South Korea should start arming itself with nuclear weapons immediately “. Nuclear boosterism has soared that Liberal Party’s leading primary candidate Lee Jae-myung called it “dangerous populism.” Making the plutonium needed for the country’s nuclear weapons has fueled the belief among some conservative South Korean politicians that Pyongyang will never agree to abandon its atomic bombs, so Seoul needs its own nuclear deterrent.

The issue continues into the early Storming days of the upcoming presidential election, with main candidates openly pushing for South Korea to station nuclear weapons. Yoo Seong-min, a former lawmaker and a lead candidate for the People Power Party, said he would “convince the US government to sign a nuclear weapons sharing agreement” if he becomes president. Such an agreement would enable tactical and non-strategic nuclear weapons to be stationed on South Korean soil for the first time since the end of the Cold War. Another Conservative contender, Hong Joon-pyo, has also argued that a nuclear weapons sharing agreement is needed so that South Korea does not become “slaves to North Korean nuclear weapons.”

For some in South Korea, it is not only possible about the inclusion of US weapons, but also about the development of our own. Lee Jong-kul, a representative of the Liberal Party, said South Korea should choose “tactical nuclear weapons as the final negotiating card” against North Korea. In 2017, a conservative group, the Korean Patriotic Citizens ’Union, organized protests with chants like” South Korea should start arming itself with nuclear weapons immediately “. Nuclear boosterism has increased so much that the Liberal Party’s leading primary candidate Lee Jae-myung called it “dangerous populism.” South Korea, which was invaded by its northern neighbor in 1950, is regularly affected by Pyongyang’s nuclear capabilities , Tests and parades of more and more powerful missiles mocked.

“In South Korea, unlike Japan, the idea of ​​nuclear weapons was never a marginal phenomenon. The argument goes like this: if North Korea has it, we should have it too, ”said Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Non-Proliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey.

According to surveys, almost half of all South Koreans surveyed support it developing its own nuclear weapons to counter the threat posed by North Korea. The urge to deploy its own nuclear shield has been in recent years both due to Pyongyang’s rifts and missile advances and after four years in which former US President Donald Trump denounced the Korean alliance and urged the country to establish its own nuclear shield to develop, grown.

But it’s not just politicians and polls. South Korea is the newest member of an exclusive club: countries that have successfully launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) ​​launched from submarines. Seven other countries have done that, but they all have nuclear warheads that they need to keep on top of. So what are Seoul’s ambitions? South Korea “is the only country that is developing SLBMs without first developing nuclear weapons, so it’s surprising,” said Vipin Narang, professor of nuclear safety and political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology / p> SLBMs are hidden underwater so they provide a survivability that could ensure South Korea can strike back against a first strike. But what to strike back with?

“Even with a heavy conventional warhead or multiple warheads on each SLBM, would six tubes in a submarine really offer credible conventional retaliation if all of South Korea’s land-based missiles were wiped out?” Narang asked.

It’s not the only nuclear-related technology that’s being developed. With the removal of the country’s range limit for its missiles, South Korea is pushing for missiles that can carry larger payloads over longer distances. These would be “good delivery vehicles” if Seoul ever thought about developing nuclear weapons, Narang said. The problem is that nuclear weapons don’t really provide security to South Korea. Pyongyang has its own arsenal and knows that it can poke and poke with little fear – be it through cyberattacks or other conventional provocations.

“In terms of the security of South Korea, nuclear weapons do very little,” said Lewis. “A nuclear-armed North Korea can be much more aggressive with conventional provocations because [North Korean leader] Kim Jong Un knows he is safe from invasion by the United States or South Korea. South Korean nuclear weapons do not solve this problem. ”

It is similar to the problem of Israel, which is widely believed to have its own nuclear capacity, but has been fighting vehemently for years to limit Iran’s ability to enrich uranium to build a bomb.

“Israel has nuclear weapons but is afraid that Iran will get them. Why don’t the Israelis believe that deterrence will protect them? Because they fear that an Iran armed with nuclear weapons will be much more aggressive when it comes to using proxy to attack them, ”said Lewis. “It’s a very similar problem for South Korea.”

Aside from the fact that they are not a deterrent, South Korean nuclear weapons could end up blowing up the Korean economy. It is one of the most trade-dependent countries on earth, with trade accounting for about 70 percent of the country’s GDP; these export industries are dependent on their status as a proliferation-limiting state. The country’s successful civil nuclear energy program could be of particular concern. South Korea has a 20-year plan to export 80 nuclear reactors worth $ 400 billion halfway through – deals that could be jeopardized if South Korea chooses to proliferate.

“South Korea is a tough one Trade dependent country, basically an economy based on the international economy, and the effects of the development of nuclear weapons will harm it, ”said Yim Man-sung, director of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Education and Research Center at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology Technology in Seoul.

South Korea, a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, could withdraw from the agreement. But that would create a cascade of legal obligations, especially for multi-billion dollar exports of civilian nuclear technology. And that, once recognized, could take the wind from the South Korean public’s urge to have their own nuclear weapons.

“At first, when people don’t know about the effects, they might say, ‘Oh, we should develop nuclear weapons ‘. But as soon as they understand the consequences and implications of that decision, most of them say no, “said Yim.

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