June 01, 2009 11:00
At a summit in Washington on June 16, the U.S. will apparently give South Korea a written pledge about its protective nuclear umbrella.
The pledge has been reaffirmed through several statements issued by the annual Security Consultative Meeting between the defense ministers of the two countries.
But the written pledge at a summit has a special weight. The U.S. apparently decided to make the commitment after North Korea's nuclear test last week and in light of calls here for South Korea to develop its own nuclear arms in response.
What exactly the nuclear umbrella is has not been revealed. The two countries used the term in the joint statement they issued after each SCM meeting, but replaced it with a new term, "extended deterrence," in October 2006, which apparently means the same thing.
Strategic nuclear weapons with a megaton capacity could theoretically be included in the nuclear umbrella, but it is more likely to consist of tactical nuclear weapons with a capacity of 100 to 200 kilotons or less since the two Koreas are adjacent, experts speculate.
According to a U.S. report for 2002, the U.S. has a total of 1,620 tactical nuclear weapons -- 1,300 B-61 nuclear bombs that can be carried by B-2 stealth bombers, B-52 bombers, or F-15E, F-16 and FA-18 fighters; and 320 Tomahawk cruise missiles that can be launched from Los Angeles-class attack nuclear-powered submarines.
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