The main opposition Liberty Korea Party on Tuesday turned up pressure on the government to seek the redeployment of US tactical nuclear arms to counter escalating North Korean nuclear threats.
During a general meeting with party lawmakers, LKP chief Hong Joon-pyo stressed that the conservative party has adopted the redeployment as its official line, which will also test the US' "will" to employ its nuclear umbrella in defense of its Asian ally.
After the North conducted two tests of an intercontinental ballistic missile in July, and its sixth and most powerful nuclear test to date Sunday, concerns rose that America's nuclear deterrence could significantly weaken.
Hong Joon-pyo, the leader of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, speaks during a general meeting of party lawmakers at the National Assembly in Seoul on Sept. 5, 2017. (Yonhap)
Skeptics here said that the US may dither on whether to mobilize its nuclear arsenal to support the South in a contingency, as it could put its own territory at risk given the North's professed capability to mount a nuclear warhead on a long-range missile.
"Whether Washington is willing to redeploy part of its tactical nuclear arms to Korea ... this is a matter of whether the US has the will to protect the Republic of Korea with its nuclear umbrella," the hawkish party leader said.
"So as to test the US' nuclear umbrella policy, we have to call for the redeployment," he added, noting Washington has stationed some 150 tactical nukes on its mainland and 160 in its European allies.
The US withdrew tactical nukes from the peninsula in the early 1990s in line with an inter-Korean agreement for a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.
Seoul has officially dismissed the idea of its own nuclear armament or bringing in tactical nukes, based on its denuclearization principle, though Defense Minister Song Young-moo has raised the possibility of reviewing the redeployment as "one of the various options."
The LKP, which has long considered security its forte, demanded the South's nuclear armament to pursue what it terms a "balance of nuclear power" -- or a balance of terror -- with Pyongyang, which it argues now enjoys a "nuclear monopoly."
The right-wing party has espoused the Cold War-era nuclear deterrence strategy anchored on the belief that any nuclear exchange will lead to mutually assured destruction.
Meanwhile, Choo Mi-ae, the leader of the ruling Democratic Party, dismissed the call for Seoul's nuclear armament as "immature and irresponsible."
"Some opposition party has been making an immature claim that we have to go nuclear as a response to the North's provocation," she said during a party-government policy coordination meeting.
"It is an irresponsible claim that is oblivious to the goal of a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula and encourages a nuclear arms race," she said.
Choo also called for the opposition party to act "prudently" in light of the impact the worsening security situation could have on the country's economy. (Yonhap)