North Korea’s fourth nuke test rekindled a debate Thursday about South Korea’s decades-long commitment to forgo its nuclear ambitions, with some lawmakers urging the government to reconsider it.
The ruling Saenuri Party’s whip Rep. Won Yoo-chul demanded the government obtain nuclear weapons for self-defense and shift away from its pledge not to seek nuclear ambition.
South Korea is banned from developing nukes under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty -- which it signed in 1975. It is also a signatory to several other nonproliferation treaties and has adopted a policy aimed at maintaining a “nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.”
“North Korea has been pointing a gun at our head for years. It’s time we stop defending ourselves with a mere sword and have nuclear weapons to challenge its destructive nuclear weapons,” said Won, urging the government to consider becoming a nuclear state.
Saenuri Party whip Rep. Won Yoo-chul. Yonhap
Other fellow lawmakers echoed the sentiment. Rep. Kim Eul-dong demanded the government request the United States redeploy tactical nuclear weapons that Washington withdrew in 1991 -- a year before the two Koreas adopted a joint declaration for denuclearization.
The argument, however, is unlikely to gain traction, as the U.S. has sought global denuclearization and the six-party talks aimed at denuclearizing the North are based on the same premise. South Korea joins the Proliferation Security Initiative, the US-led campaign to contain weapons of mass destruction like nukes.
Defense Minister Han Min-koo also dismissed the idea. The minister said in a parliamentary hearing that the government would “continue to purse denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” The floor leader later took a step back, saying his remark was a “personal conviction.”
It was not the first time that South Korea’s lawmakers have publicly demanded Seoul arm itself with a nuclear arsenal. In 2012, Chung Mong-joon, former leader of the Saenuri Party, said that South Korea should have nuclear weapons to fend off the North’s threat. His remark came a day after Pyongyang’s third nuclear test.
“Given that North Korea has nuclear weapons, it is fair to say that diplomatic attempts to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula have failed. Though it sounds ironic, we need to have nuclear weapons to eventually make the peninsula nuclear-free,” said Chung.
Meanwhile, the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea rebuked the Saenuri Party’s call for nuclear armament as an attempt to seek political gains before the upcoming elections, reiterating the need to honor the 1992 joint declaration on denuclearization.
“We shouldn’t violate the agreement that we have singed ourselves. The idea of nuclear armament is like taking advantage of the public fears over national security and playing into North Korea’s narrative,” said the Minjoo Party spokesman Rep. Kim Sung-soo.
By Yeo Jun-suk (firstname.lastname@example.org