U.S. Expert Warns of Nuclear Arms Race in East Asia

      February 17, 2016 11:58

      A U.S. expert on nonproliferation has warned South Korea, Japan and Taiwan are the most likely candidates in East Asia to develop their own nuclear weapons in the face of the nuclear threat.

      "If a new nuclear-armed state were to emerge in Northeast Asia, it would most likely be" South Korea, said Mark Fitzpatrick, who heads the U.S. office of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.

      The book making the claim, "Asia's Latent Nuclear Powers: Japan, South Korea and Taiwan," is published Thursday.

      The author believes that South Korea could develop a nuclear weapon within two years if it sets its sights on the task. It would only require four to six months to enrich uranium and reprocess spent nuclear fuel rods, but the development period would be extended to 19 to 24 months for facility design and staff hiring and training.

      South Korea has the know-how to manufacture ballistic and cruise missiles and ample experience in civilian atomic power generation. The Hyunmu-2B ballistic missile is capable of hitting targets more than 500 km away, and one South Korean cruise missile has a maximum range of 1,500 km.

      Fitzpatrick said South Korea's conventional missile warheads measure 0.52 to 0.54 m in diameter, which is smaller than early versions of nuclear bombs.

      Meanwhile, Wall Street Journal columnist Michael Auslin wrote on Monday that U.S. President Barack Obama pledged to maintain solid security on the Korean peninsula, but that promise was shattered following North Korea's nuclear test last month. Although South Korea may not cross the Rubicon of developing nuclear weapons, it has come "in sight of the river," Auslin said.

      He added Seoul feels "betrayed" by U.S. leaders who had vowed to stop North Korea's nuclear weapons program and that Japan, Singapore and Taiwan will follow if the South decides to develop nuclear weapons.

      But Fitzpatrick said nuclear arms development would entail international sanctions, which would lead to huge economic, political and military losses for South Korea. "Seoul is very unlikely to cross the nuclear-weapons threshold, however, as long as the U.S. defense commitment remains credible," he added.

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