Receiving ever-increasing threats of nuclear warfare from North Korea, South Korea is now considering building its own nuclear weapons to defend itself.
However, this move may complicate the nuclear crisis even more.
Under a 1974 atomic energy deal with the U.S., South Korea is prohibited from building its own nuclear weapons. Instead, the deal offers a “nuclear umbrella” against potential attacks and 28,500 U.S. troops to defend the South from North Korea.
But with North Korea claiming that it can turn Seoul into a “sea of flames” and with doubt over whether the U.S. will defend South Korea if doing so puts American cities in danger of retaliatory attacks, South Korea’s media are calling for it to develop nuclear weapons.
“Now is time to start reviewing nuclear armament,” the Korea Herald said in an editorial Friday.
Pointing out that North Korea now had intercontinental ballistic missiles that could reach the mainland United States, the paper added: “Trust in the nuclear umbrella the US provides to the South can be shaken.”
As a highly technologically-advanced country, South Korea could most likely develop an atomic device within months.
According to the Korea Herald, the U.S. should deploy some of its atomic weapons to South Korea if does not want Seoul to arm itself.
While the U.S. did station atomic weapons in South Korea after the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in a stalemate, it withdrew them in 1991 when both Koreas agreed not to foster nuclear weapons.
But eventually, North Korea did not hold on to its end of the deal. In 2006 it performed its first nuclear test, and in 2009 it formally abandoned the nuclear agreement.
In recent months, tensions have worsened between North Korea and the U.S. President Donald Trump warned of “fire and fury” against North Korea after it threatened to strike the U.S. territory of Guam.
In response, North Korean military chief Ri Myong Su stated that North Korea would “inflict the most miserable and merciless punishment upon all the provokers” if the U.S. did not stop being “reckless.”
As an ally of South Korea, America’s increasing tensions with North Korea puts South Korea in grave danger.
“A catastrophe is looming,” the South’s top-selling Chosun daily said in an editorial this week. “All options, even those considered unthinkable so far, must be on the table.”
“We need to have our own military options to overwhelm the North,” stated the Korea Economic Daily, asserting that a nuclear weapon would ensure a “balance of terror” and prevent the North from attacking the South.
It seems that many in South Korea agree with this proposition. In a survey last year, about 57% of South Koreans supported nuclear armament, while just 31% opposed it.
But in addition to upsetting the United States, South Korean nuclear weapons would anger North Korea even more, which also claims it needs nuclear weapons to protect itself from invasion and attacks.
“The so-called ‘balance of terror’ would only turn the Korean peninsula into the hotbed of a nuclear arms race, not a peaceful peninsula,” said Yang Moo-Jin, a professor at the University of North Korea Studies in Seoul. The move to develop nuclear weapons could also lead other Asian countries, such as Japan and Taiwan, to create nuclear arsenals, causing a “nuclear domino.”
“Japan in particular would welcome it with open arms, because it provides a perfect excuse to revise its pacifist constitution and build its own nuclear weapons for ‘self-defense,'” he continued.
Nonetheless, despite the media’s calls for nuclear weapons, South Korea is not officially considering the option for now, said South Korean defense chief Song Young-Moo.
Instead, Song is encouraging the government to develop nuclear-powered submarines, even though this will require American consent.
In a recent conversation with Trump, South Korean President Moon Jae-In also pushed for the U.S. to reduce its limits on Seoul’s missiles.
South Korea is currently allowed to have ballistic missiles with a range of 800 kilometers and payload of 500 kilograms. However, it would like the weight limit to be raised to 1,000 kilograms.
According to the Pentagon on Monday, the U.S. is “actively” considering this change.
Featured image via National Museum of the USAF