Nuclear Deal with U.S. Tightens Korea's Shackles

      April 27, 2023 13:38

      Presidents Yoon Suk-yeol and Joe Biden have announced that South Korea will have some say in the use of American nuclear arms in defense against a North Korean nuclear attack. The two allies will form a "nuclear consultative group" for information sharing and planning of the use of U.S. nuclear submarines, aircraft carriers and bombers carrying nuclear weapons. The solution can be compared to NATO's Nuclear Planning Group and will give South Korea a better understanding of the U.S.' nuclear umbrella and ensure that it can be mobilized in times of emergency.
      But part of the NATO pledge is the presence of nuclear warheads at U.S. airbases in Europe, which is significantly different to what Seoul and Washington have agreed. The question remains whether Washington will really protect Seoul even if that places U.S. territory in the crosshairs of North Korea's nuclear missiles. According to a survey early this year, half of South Koreans doubt that the U.S. will exercise its nuclear deterrence capabilities in the event of an emergency on the Korean Peninsula.
      The price for South Korea is high. In return it has pledged to abide by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty -- in other words it has relinquished any ambitions to arm itself with nuclear weapons in the face of the North Korean threat. Only in January, Yoon hinted that South Korea should acquire its own nuclear arms, but now the U.S. has firmly blocked that option. "I have absolute authority, and sole authority, to launch a nuclear weapon, but what the declaration means is that we will consult with our allies, if any action is so called for," Biden insisted.
      It was hasty to jettison South Korea's right to protect its sovereignty and people at a time when North Korea is repeatedly threatening to launch a nuclear attack against it. Some security experts have said recently that a decision by South Korea to arm itself with nuclear weapons would not violate the NPT. U.S. officials should pay attention to this view.
      In fact, Wednesday's declaration seems to put more emphasis on American concerns that South Korea could develop its own nuclear weapons than on the North Korean nuclear threat that prompts such aspirations. Ultimately, South Korea must be in a position to defend itself.

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