Rep. Won Yoo-chul, a member of the conservative Liberty Korea Party (LKP) and chairman of the party’s special committee on security, foreign affairs, and the North Korean nuclear program, announced “the redeployment of tactical nuclear weapons” as his party’s platform on Aug. 8. “We’re preparing for Korean-style nuclear capability as a real and viable alternative,” Won added
In an upcoming policy forum on Aug. 12, the party plans to formalize its official position. It’s very worrying that the party is seeking to use North Korea’s launches of new short-range missiles to justify its aim of redeploying tactical nuclear weapons and pursuing nuclear development.
LKP floor leader Na Kyung-won has urged the Blue House to “actively consider the use of a nuclear deterrent, such as NATO-style sharing of nukes.” Cho Kyoung-tae, a member of the party’s Supreme Council, wants South Korea to pursue its own nuclear program. The party argues that South Korea should respond to the North’s nuclear and missile threats by acquiring a meaningful nuclear deterrent rather than through making futile appeals for peace. But that type of thinking is an irresponsible and dangerous form of “security populism.”
The idea of using nuclear weapons to bolster deterrence might sound plausible, but it’s actually vacuous. The moment the South Korean government starts talking about redeploying tactical nuclear weapons or pursuing its own nuclear program, not only the Korean Peninsula but all of Northeast Asia will be dragged into a nuclear arms race. It would immediately eliminate the rationale for condemning the North’s nuclear and ballistic missile development and for cooperating with the international community to pressure Pyongyang into denuclearization. We must bear in mind that fighting nukes with nukes would only cripple the Korean Peninsula peace process and give North Korea ammunition to justify its own nuclear weapons program.
If South Korea goes nuclear, it would obviously trigger a confrontation with longtime nuclear powers China and Russia. In the past, when the US deployed some 1,000 surface-to-surface missiles in South Korea, the Soviet Union and China countered by concentrating nuclear weaponry in Vladivostok and the Shandong Peninsula, within range of the Korean Peninsula. Such a step by Seoul would also likely trigger Japan’s acquisition of a nuclear arsenal, providing a pretext for the Abe administration’s dreams of acquiring the capacity to wage war. And the US would pass on the enormous cost of tactical nukes to South Korea.
The LKP has proposed the redeployment of tactical nuclear weapons whenever a nuclear crisis arises with Pyongyang. In 2017, Hong Joon-pyo, chairman of the party, officially proposed bringing tactical nukes back to the peninsula and even organized a delegation to ask the US to do so. Irresponsible security populism, however, can never alleviate security threats like the North’s nuclear program. In December 1991, President Roh Tae-woo declared that there was not a single nuclear device on the Korean Peninsula; we must not let the peninsula again become the most dangerous place on earth, a “danger zone for nuclear war.” The LKP should immediately drop its extremely dangerous calls for nuclear armament.
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