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Is Seoul ready for nuclear armament?

Posted March. 20, 2017 07:08,   

Updated March. 20, 2017 07:16


U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Saturday that the situation (surrounding the North Korean nuclear weapons) could evolve to a point where the U.S. could even consider allowing nuclear armament of (South Korea and Japan) to ensure the balance of mutual deterrence. The top U.S. diplomat thus indicated that Washington could even allow independent nuclear armament of South Korea (and Japan) in addition to considering of the redeployment of tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea. U.S. President Donald Trump already stated during his election campaign that his administration could allow nuclear armament of South Korea and Japan. This clearly reveals how seriously the Trump administration recognizes the North Korean nuclear threat, and how different its response to the issue from that of the Barack Obama administration, which pursued a "world free of nuclear weapons."

Tillerson made the remarks rather cautiously only under the assumption that “There is no change (from the conventional belief that nuclear armament of South Korea and Japan is not necessary). Our objective is to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.” However, his remarks reflect his recognition of the urgency of the situation in which the North’s nuclear development is posing imminent threat, so grave that the allies may have no choice but to counter Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons with nuclear weapons. During his visit to China, Tillerson also said there cannot be any dialogue without Pyongyang giving up its nuclear weapons, implying Washington’s robust sanctions and even preemptive military action against Pyongyang. However, China suggested resolution of the issue through a process of dialogue ranging from three-party talks, six-party talks and direct dialogue between Pyongyang and Washington.

Such discrepancy between the U.S. and China’s positions, particularly China’s ambiguous stance, is instigating the Kim Jong Un administration’s sentiment to step up provocations. Pyongyang conducted a test of its new rocket engine as if in a show of demonstration, timed with the U.S. and Chinese foreign ministers’ meeting. The Stalinist country has thus braggingly demonstrated that it is taking a step closer to the completion of an intercontinental ballistic missile that is capable of sending a nuclear warhead to the U.S. mainland while Beijing is siding with the rogue state. U.S. President Trump expressed discontent by saying “They (North Korea) have been playing the U.S. for years, China has done little to help!” but North Korea effectively played both the U.S. and China simultaneously.

Even in this situation, the South Korean political circles are engaged in futile dispute over the deployment of THAAD. It is too obvious that the country will be in chaos with the nation divided into the two groups for and against nuclear armament even if Washington does lift Seoul the ban on nuclear armament in the future. If the main opposition Minjoo Party seizes the power in the May 9 presidential election, the next administration might choose to oppose South Korea’s nuclear armament by citing China’s opposition even if the U.S. allows nuclear armament of the South. Secretary Tillerson called Japan "the most important ally," but labeled South Korea "an important partner," downplaying the importance of South Korea vis-à-vis Japan. Japan is a "potential nuclear power," which is already operating a nuclear reprocessing facility and that is capable of developing nuclear weapons in a short time once it decides to. If South Korea only has to witness Japan arm itself with nuclear weapons one day in the future, this country will be truly in shame.