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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

South Korea Special Weapons

Nuclear Weapons

As a member country of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, South Korea is prohibited from having a nuclear arsenal.

While the country's President Moon Jae In does not support the idea, by 2017 polls showed that a majority of the country favored it. Yoon Young-seok, a lawmaker from the Liberty Korea Party, said that the population wants to see a better balance of power between the South and the North.

Leaders of the South Korean ruling party said that the country should consider creating its own nuclear potential for self-defense. The news came a day after North Korea claimed it successfully tested its first hydrogen bomb. "It is time for us to peacefully arm ourselves with nukes from the perspective of self-defense to fight against North Korea's terror and destruction," Won Yoo-cheol, floor leader of the party, was quoted as saying by Yonhap 07 January 2016.

South Korea began a nuclear weapons program in 1970, in response to the Nixon Doctrine's emphasis on self-defense for Asian allies. Following the withdrawal of 26,000 American troops, the South Korean government established a Weapons Exploitation Committee, which decided to pursue nuclear weapons. By 1975 the US had pressured France into not delivering a reprocessing facility, effectiely ending attempts to develop nuclear weapons. Under pressure from the United States, Korea ratified the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) on 23 April 1975. Although President Park Chung-Hee said in 1977 that South Korea would not develop nuclear weapons, he continued a clandestine program that only ended with his assassination in October 1979.

South Korea may have had plans in the 1980s to develop nuclear weapons to deter an attack by the North. The plans were reported to have been dropped under US pressure. However, the reports seem to have emanated in the form of hearsay from a South Korean opposition legislator, with no confirmation from US or South Korean officials, or independent sources. The United States remained concerned, as indicated by the "special" inspections that the US conducts at the center of Seoul's nuclear research, the Korean Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI) located at Daeduk, near the city of Taejon. The United States maintains a ban on plutonium being supplied to South Korea.

Donald J. Trump, the Republican presidential candidate, discussed his views on foreign policy with the New York Times on 26 March 2016. "... right now we’re protecting, we’re basically protecting Japan, and we are, every time North Korea raises its head, you know, we get calls from Japan and we get calls from everybody else, and “Do something.” And there’ll be a point at which we’re just not going to be able to do it anymore. Now, does that mean nuclear? It could mean nuclear. It’s a very scary nuclear world. Biggest problem, to me, in the world, is nuclear, and proliferation. At the same time, you know, we’re a country that doesn’t have money. You know, when we did these deals, we were a rich country. We’re not a rich country. ... would I rather have North Korea have them with Japan sitting there having them also? You may very well be better off if that’s the case. In other words, where Japan is defending itself against North Korea... "

The President Park Geun-hye government, however, had rejected the need for nuclear weapons, relying instead on the protection of the US nuclear deterrent guaranteed under its security alliance with Washington. The South Korean English-language newspaper JoongAng Daily ran a strongly worded editorial criticizing Trump, calling his views "myopic" and "utterly short-sighted."

By 2016 advocates of nuclear deterrence said Seoul must pursue its own nuclear weapons programs to defend against North Korea’s growing nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities. Song Dae-sung, a political science professor at Kunkuk University in Seoul and author of the book Let’s Have Nuclear Power makes the case for a nuclear armed South Korea. “If North Korea becomes a nuclear-armed state and its adversary does not own nuclear power, then the non-nuclear state becomes a slave or hostage of the nuclear state. This is a basic principle of international politics,” said Song.

National Assembly Representative Won Yoo-chul, a leader within of the ruling Saenuri Party, has also been a strong nuclear advocate. Won has put together a study group in the parliamentary National Defense Committee to assess the risks and benefits of South Korea pursuing its own nuclear program. “The most efficient way to deter nuclear warfare is to have nukes for our self-defense,” Won has said.

Donald Trump, the Republican candidate for president, has cast doubt on the U.S. policy of providing extended nuclear deterrence in the region by questioning America’s commitment to protect South Korea. “If the U.S. elects a president who makes such an argument, then South Korea needs to own nuclear power all the more,” said Song.

North Korea’s withdrawal from the NPT in 2003 is a major justification for the current sanctions in place against it. However the South’s nuclear supporters say Seoul could invoke Article 10 of the NPT, which allows for a withdraw from the treaty when extraordinary events jeopardize national interests, by citing the North’s nuclear threat.

A group of security and nuclear experts launched a think tank to discuss ways to arm South Korea with nuclear weapons, while ruling party lawmakers on 11 September 2016 renewed calls for the redeployment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons here and eventually South Korea's independent nuclear weapons development in response to North Korea's repeated nuclear tests. "The South Korean nuclear research group, composed of about 10 North Korea, security and nuclear specialists, was launched in early September," Cheong Seong-chang, a North Korea researcher at the Sejong Institute who represents the think tank, told Yonhap News Agency. "The members plan to have in-depth discussions on how South Korea could develop its own nuclear weapons and find common ground and share their knowledge on the issue." The group was the first known South Korean think tank on the nuclear armament issue whose launch comes amid North Korea's accelerating nuclear and missile threats.

Won Yoo-chul, a representative at the ruling Saenuri Party, argued in a statement issued after the test that "Only nuclear weapons could be an effective deterrence against nuclear weapons," urging the government to push for nuclear armament. Won's position has been supported by former Saenuri Chairman Kim Moo-sung and former Saenuri chief policymaker Kim Jung-hoon, among others. But a South Korean government official denied any move for nuclear armament, reconfirming its stance of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se told foreign officials on 02 October 2016 that the North’s nuclear test last month, its second of the year and most powerful yet, is being viewed by many in his country as “a kind of Sept. 11 attack”.

Gyeonggi Province Governor Nam Kyung-pil stressed that South Korea needed to prepare for nuclear armament amid rising uncertainties surrounding security on the Korean Peninsula. Nam, considered to be a potential presidential candidate, made the remark in an interview with Seoul-based Yonhap News Agency on 02 October 2016. He said South Korea needs to mull various options, including preparations for nuclear armament, citing concerns the United States may withdraw its nuclear umbrella from South Korea. Nam said such preparations must begin now, stressing that South Korea can start discussing the issue with the U.S. after preparing for it internally.

The governor said that the American people’s perception about the South Korea-U.S. military alliance is changing, adding that the U.S. policy on nuclear umbrellas could also change. Nam also called for the swift transfer of wartime operational control(OPCON) of the South Korean troops from Washington to Seoul. Under the current Seoul-Washington alliance, the top U.S. commander will have control over South Korean troops in the event of a war with North Korea. South Korea and the United States originally planned to transfer OPCON to Seoul in December 2015, but later postponed the move to an unspecified date in the mid-2020s.

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