April 20, 2023 11:30
President Yoon Suk-yeol said on Wednesday South Korea will bolster its "surveillance, reconnaissance and intelligence analysis capability" and develop "ultra-high-performance, high-power weapons" to fend off the threat from North Korea.
In an interview with Reuters ahead of his trip to the U.S., Yoon said, "If a nuclear war breaks out between South and North Korea, this is probably not just a problem between the two sides, but the entire Northeast Asia would probably turn to ashes. That has to be stopped."
South Korea has relied on the U.S. nuclear umbrella so far to deal with the North Korean threat, but now intends to radically strengthen its own military capabilities.
"In terms of responding to a powerful nuclear attack, I think stronger measures than what NATO has should be prepared" for South Korea.
That hints at discussions with U.S. President Joe Biden in Washington next week about the possibility of South Korea sharing control of American nuclear weapons that would be deployed here.
The "ultra-high-performance" weapons Yoon mentioned are believed to be Hyunmu-5 ballistic missiles, which can carry a warhead weighing up to nine tons and destroy a target 100 meters or deeper underground. Seoul hopes to test-fire a Hyunmu-5 soon.
Yoon also hinted at a shift toward providing lethal weapons to Ukraine rather than largely civilian support. "If there is a situation the international community cannot condone, such as any large-scale attack on civilians, massacre or serious violation of the laws of war, it might be difficult for us to insist only on humanitarian or financial support," he said.
So far South Korea has only offered humanitarian and economic aid to Ukraine to avoid agitating Russia, where many South Korean businesses operate. But Seoul is under increasing pressure from western allies to provide weapons to Ukraine.
A presidential office source later denied Yoon's comments reflect a shift in Seoul's position as Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned this would draw South Korea deeper into the war.
"Unfortunately, Seoul has taken a rather unfriendly position in this whole story," Peskov told reporters. "Of course, the start of arms deliveries will obliquely mean a certain stage of involvement in this conflict."
Yoon also took the opportunity to slam his predecessor Moon Jae-in's rapprochement efforts with the North.
He promised not to hold any "surprise" summits with Kim for political gain. "They used those talks ahead of elections, but ultimately inter-Korean relations were always back to square one," Yoon said. "If previous talks had proceeded step by step... before the leaders met, the inter-Korean relationship would have developed steadily, though at a snail's pace."
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