April 21, 2016 13:00
Gen. Vincent Brooks, nominated to succeed Curtis Scaparrotti as U.S. Forces Korea chief, told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday that if Washington removes its nuclear umbrella, South Korea "would have to contemplate [nuclear armament] to maintain their own security. That question would likely come up."
Brooks' comments were apparently a response to blather by Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump, who has claimed the U.S.' allies overseas are paying practically nothing for their defense and should be getting their own nuclear arms.
But unless Trump is elected, the U.S. government is steadfast in its readiness to protect South Korea from a North Korean nuclear attack. The U.S. made the pledge to provide a nuclear umbrella in a treaty in 1978, and President Barack Obama countered Trump's nonsense by saying Washington's nuclear umbrella for South Korea and Japan forms the "cornerstone" of America's role in the Asia Pacific region.
But the fact that the subject of South Korea's possible nuclear armament was discussed in the U.S. Congress is not to be taken lightly. It could suggest that skepticism is spreading in the U.S. over its nuclear umbrella policy rather than that Washington wants Seoul to strengthen its defenses. And if such skepticism prevails and the U.S. decides to remove the nuclear umbrella out of the blue, that would lay South Korea wide open to North Korean threats.
Indeed some skepticism has already arisen within the U.S. whether Washington would really be willing to use nuclear weapons to protect its allies and thus expose itself to a nuclear attack. In these circumstances it is foolish and irresponsible for a man who hopes to be president of the U.S. to utter nonsense that could embolden North Korea to launch further provocations.
North Korea is gearing up for another nuclear test, desperate to be recognized as a nuclear power with leverage in negotiations with the U.S., and Seoul and Washington have their hands full trying to discourage this strategy. They need no further input from the likes of Trump that could destabilize the situation.
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