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[News Focus] Calls mounting for return of U.S. tactical nukes

Washington says has no plans to bring atomic weapons back to South Korea


Controversy is brewing once again in Seoul over the need to redeploy U.S. tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea amid renewed threats from the North in a prolonged inter-Korean stalemate.

The White House said Monday that the U.S. has no plans to bring tactical nuclear weapons back to South Korea, shortly after a U.S. official said the matter was entirely up to the Seoul government.

“Our policy remains in support of a non-nuclear Korean peninsula,” Robert Jensen, deputy spokesman for the National Security Council, was quoted as saying by the Yonhap news agency.

“There is no plan to change that policy. Tactical nuclear weapons are unnecessary for the defense of South Korea and we have no plan or intention to return them.”

Jensen’s remarks came as several conservative politicians in Seoul called for the need to consider redeployment.

A South Korean news report quoted Gary Samore, White House coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction, proliferation and terrorism, as saying that he believed the U.S. would say yes if the South Korean government officially requested the redeployment.

Samore said, however, that Seoul was unlikely to make such a request as South Koreans have not reached a consensus on the issue.

A Cheong Wa Dae official Monday said Seoul had no such plans, adding that Samore’s views were his own and did not represent the U.S. government’s official position.

“Our government is not considering asking the U.S. to redeploy tactical nuclear weapons to the Korean Peninsula,” the official said.

“The Joint Declaration on Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is still valid.”

The U.S. withdrew all of its tactical nuclear weapons from South Korea in 1991 as the two Koreas signed the agreement calling for denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and inter-Korean rapprochement.

Washington since then has committed to providing so-called “extended deterrence,” using all of the U.S. military might, including the nuclear umbrella and ballistic missiles, in defense of South Korea.

Several South Korean conservatives, however, have occasionally called for discussions on redeployment since North Korea conducted nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009 and test-fired ballistic missiles.
(The Korea Herald)
(The Korea Herald)

Rep. Chung Mong-joon, former chairman of the ruling Grand National Party, brought up the issue most recently.

“Because a nuclear umbrella is not enough to make the North give up its nuclear weapons, we must consider redeployment of (U.S.) tactical nuclear weapons,” Chung said last Friday during a parliamentary interpellation session on foreign affairs, unification and national security.

“It is impossible to peacefully coexist with a nuclear armed North Korea.”

Chung’s remarks suggest that the two Koreas should go back to where they were before the Joint Declaration on Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula signed in 1991.

“North Korea’s nuclear program is a political weapon that wields massive power just by possessing nuclear arms and shakes up the military balance between the South and the North,” Chung said.

“The North will resort to a ‘nuclear shadow’ strategy of repeating conventional provocations with nuclear weapons on its back.”

Chung criticized what he called “security populism,” referring to politicians who said “cowardly peace was better than war or that the South should risk going to war to punish the North.”

“South Korea’s nuclear armament is a sensitive issue, but we should at least consider redeployment of tactical nuclear weapons until the North renounces its nuclear program,” he stressed.

Rep. Chung Ok-nim of the GNP seconded Rep. Chung Mong-joon’s proposal.

GNP’s Rep. Won Yu-chul, chair of the National Defense Committee, said the South should possess nuclear weapons on condition that it immediately destroys them once North Korea denuclearizes or the Koreas reunite.

“We don’t have our own means of self-defense,” Won said during the parliamentary session Friday.

“If the conditional nuclear possession is publicly discussed within South Korea, it could also pressure China and Russia to take more proactive actions to resolve the North Korean nuclear problem.”

Rep. Song Young-sun of the Future Hope Alliance, who is also on the National Defense Committee, said South Korea had no choice but to seek nuclear armament on its own as its last resort now that the North was unlikely to denuclearize.

Legislators of the main opposition Democratic Party, on the other hand, found fault with the government’s North Korea policy.

Rep. Jang-Se-hwan of the DP accused the Lee Myung-bak administration of arousing fear of war among South Koreans when “its lack of efforts for dialogue is to blame for the current stalemate.”

In November, then-South Korean Defense Minister Kim Tae-young said that he would consider discussing with the U.S. redeploying U.S. tactical nuclear weapons back to South Korea, although his remarks were quickly reversed by Cheong Wa Dae and the Defense Ministry.

North Korea on Monday renewed its threat to wage nuclear war and vowed to respond to an 11-day South Korean-U.S. military exercise called Key Resolve/Foal Eagle.

By Kim So-hyun (sophie@heraldcorp.com)
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