South Korea opposition party calls for nuclear armament – 14 Aug 2017

  • Amid soaring tensions between the US and North Korea, calls are growing in South Korea for the nation to deploy nuclear weapons. Revelations last week about the rapid advancement of Pyongyang’s nuclear programme have prompted renewed debate about whether South Korea should encourage redeployment of US warheads or even develop its own weapons of mass destruction.
  • Spearheading the charge is the main opposition Liberty Korea party, which has appealed to redeploy tactical nuclear warheads amid the escalating stand-off between Pyongyang and Washington. The prospect would infuriate North Korea, which claims it is developing nuclear and ballistic missiles only to protect itself from the threatening behaviour of the US and South Korea.
  • In South Korea, the opposition’s calls to redeploy nuclear warheads are in contrast with the approach taken by South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who has pledged to engage with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. A spokesperson for the president told the Financial Times that the government was “not considering introducing – or re-introducing – tactical nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula.”
  • But Seoul’s softer approach to relations with its northern neighbour is also coming under fire in the media. An editorial in the Korea Economic Daily last week raised the case for nuclear armament, citing uncertainty about whether the US would protect the nation of 50 million.
  • South Korean officials say the country is capable of producing a nuclear warhead and experts believe production might only take several months. However, the prospect has not gained traction among high-ranking officials, who take pride in espousing the country’s commitment to a nuclear-free peninsula. Nor would the US necessarily welcome another nuclear-armed state in Asia, even among its allies.
  • A Gallup poll in Jan 16 found 54% of South Koreans supported nuclear armament, while 38% were opposed. Since then, North Korea has tested another nuclear device, two long-range missiles and a host of other advanced military technologies.

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