What Position Should S.Korea Take on a Nuclear-Free World?

      March 19, 2010 12:58

      Chun Sung-hoon

      A global debate is underway about the idea of a nuclear-free world. It was touched off by a discussion between former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger and former defense secretary William Perry published in a U.S. newspaper in 2007, and U.S. President Barack Obama made it one of his election slogans.

      The idea of liberating mankind from nuclear fear is nothing new. The drive was initiated in July 1955 when Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein urged experts to meet and discuss the dangers nuclear weapons would cause to human civilization.

      Such efforts have produced a consensus that "a nuclear-free world" is desirable and a variety of formulas have been proposed to make that happen. But the gap between the realities of the Cold War and the ideals of the proponents of nuclear disarmament was vast. And in the post-Cold War era, nuclear developments by North Korea, India and Pakistan and a nuclear terror threat from Al Quaeda and other insurgent groups have emerged as new hurdles.   

      The Obama administration's nuclear policy is expected to be disclosed in a report to be published soon. The prospects are that the role of nuclear weapons as a means of security guarantee will diminish. But this will mean that the nuclear umbrella the U.S. offers to its allies may be weakened, and concerns about the possible effects on its security of Obama's nuclear policy are already high in Japan.

      Even in the U.S. there is a strong criticism that the idea is premature and ignores the realities. The main reason for the delayed announcement of the report is conflicting views within the administration. Some maintain that Obama himself is unconvinced that nuclear weapons can be eliminated during his lifetime, and that the U.S. will keep them so long as any other country does.

      Serious discussions of the idea have yet to take place in South Korea. Some, assuming the Obama idea to be an international trend, maintain that it should be accommodated. I support it in principle because it is a common goal of mankind and the eventual goal of South Korea's security and denuclearization policy. But South Korea must look closely at how it will affect the U.S.' pledge to provide security and a nuclear umbrella. Exposed to the North Korean threat, Seoul cannot support the idea unconditionally.    

      A particular concern is the effect on the U.S. promise to stop nuclear proliferation. The more the role of nuclear weapons is reduced, the less South Korea can rely in the nuclear umbrella.

      South Korea should support the overall goal in principle but the security situation on the peninsula must be taken into account. South Korea and the U.S. should strengthen strategic dialogue so the nuclear shield offered by the U.S., remains in place. And Seoul should urge the international community to make a joint effort for making the Korean Peninsula the starting point of a nuclear-free world and strengthen the South's capability to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue.

      By Chun Sung-hoon, a senior researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification

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