Seoul dismisses US push for tactical nuclear deployment
By Kim Young-jin
Seoul is rejecting a push by U.S. lawmakers to redeploy U.S. tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea.
“We have not discussed the matter,” a senior defense official said Monday on condition of anonymity. “South Korea is a country making efforts for non-proliferation and as such it would not be appropriate to do so.”
An official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade added that neither South Korea nor the U.S. administration of Barack Obama have changed their stances on the issue and that Seoul was “watching” how the debate would unfold in Washington.
The debate heated up last week when the Republican-dominated House Armed Services Committee approved an amendment to the 2013 National Defense Authorization Bill calling for the reintroduction. That was echoed here by conservative heavyweight Chung Mong-joon, who is bidding to become the ruling Saenuri Party’s presidential nominee.
The U.S. lawmakers cited the failure of China, the North’s main ally, to convince Pyongyang to stand down as a reason for the redeployment, as well as Beijing’s “selling (of) nuclear components to North Korea.” A missile launch vehicle suspected to be of Chinese origin was spotted at a military parade in Pyongyang last month.
But the calls have been met with skepticism as some believe the move would do little to bolster the allies’ capabilities and may increase risks during conflict.
Baek Sung-joo, a military analyst with the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, said Seoul’s 1991 deal to denuclearize the peninsula _ after which Washington pulled its forward-based nuclear weapons off the peninsula _ made the move politically difficult.
“If the U.S. side deploys the weapons, South Korea and the international community will have no basis to demand for North Korea to denuclearize,” he said. “So it is impossible for the U.S. side to make the redeploy.”
The pressure comes as most believe the North will continue to grow its nuclear weapons program and proliferation activities to cement the power of young leader Kim Jong-un. Satellite imagery has shown some preparations for a third nuclear test, which if it materializes, would follow its illegal April 13 long-range rocket launch.
Washington maintains a troop presence of 28,500 in the South as a deterrent against the North and recently prioritized Asia in its defense policy.
“Whether or not tactical nuclear weapons are deployed on the territory of the ROK has no bearing on the ability of the United States to deliver nuclear strikes against North Korea,” Daniel Pinkston of the International Crisis Group said. “In fact, those weapons make South Korea less secure and you could get into the situation, in a conflict, where you either have to use them or lose them.” He added that the move may ratchet up Sino-U.S. tension, possibly mitigating Beijing’s efforts to rein in the North.
“Some of these people who are mentioning this, I really wonder if they are thinking it through,” the expert said, noting it could be political pandering ahead of elections this year.
A South Korean military source responded negatively to the proposal Sunday, saying redeployment would go against the inter-Korean declaration on denuclearization and would fire up too much controversy. The source added that the allies were instead developing strategies based on “a conventional precision strike system.”
The U.S. pulled all of its tactical nuclear weapons off the peninsula after the inter-Korean deal. Since then, Washington has included the South under its nuclear umbrella.