S. Koreans ask if U.S. can protect them from N. Korea nuclear threat


TOKYO — The mood around Unification Village, just south of the inter-Korean border, has grown tense over the past two years as North Korea has ramped up its ballistic missile tests. Recently, North Korean drones also infiltrated the border.

“It’s time to go nuclear,” said Lee Wan-bi, who has lived in the village for 50 years, just three miles south of the Military Demarcation Line that marks the official border between the two Koreas. she does.

For decades, Lee has been at the forefront of volatile border tensions amid failed efforts to disarm North Korea. “It increasingly seems that matching the North Korean nuclear threat is a solution that will bring lasting stability to our village life,” Lee said.

North Korea threatens to attack South with nuclear weapons and shows no signs of backing down on denuclearization talks, says South Korea Debate rages over whether they can still rely on the US to protect them in the event of a war on the peninsula.

Over the past year, the changing geopolitical landscape surrounding South Korea — North Korea’s unprecedented number of missile launches, Russia’s nuclear debacle and growing fears that China will attack Taiwan — has made South Korea has prompted residents to take a closer look at their reliance on security. United States.

At the same time, the South Korean public has become ever more pro-nuclear, a sentiment that was once considered extreme but is now mainstream.

South Koreans largely want nuclear weapons to counter China and North Korea.

As a signatory to the International Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), South Korea is prohibited from developing or acquiring nuclear weapons. South Korea is under the protection of the US nuclear umbrella, which guarantees that the US will use its nuclear weapons to protect South Korea if necessary. This US commitment to protect allies is also known as “extended deterrence”.

Now there is an urgent need to reassess the credibility of the arrangements. Some South Korean analysts wonder: Will the US really deploy its nuclear weapons to protect South Korea? And would it do the same during a Russian invasion of Ukraine or a Chinese invasion of Taiwan?

Seoul Principal S. Paul Choi said, “While South Korea may have sought reassurance from the United States in the past, … the current dialogue is different due to drastic changes in the threat environment and the circumstances surrounding South Korea. ” based consultancy StratWays Group and a former South Korean military officer.

Choi said the risks of conflicts breaking out in multiple places at the same time, such as in Europe and East Asia, or multiple places within the East Asia region, “more about the ability of the United States to meet its commitments.” cause concern,” Choi said.

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South Korean leaders have grappled with the public debate, which intensified last month after South Korean President Yoon Seok-yul mentioned the possibility of going nuclear as a policy option, though he proposed It is unrealistic. He later retracted the comment, saying he was “absolutely confident about America’s extended deterrence.”

Several South Korean officials reiterated the country’s confidence in the alliance and the NPT. But he acknowledged the need to strengthen the allies’ response to North Korea and said his discussions with the United States focused on how to define and meet those goals.

South Korean officials also see their trilateral efforts with the US and Japan to respond to the North’s threat, such as drills and increased communications, as another way to overcome the credibility gap.

“Having our own nuclear weapons is not a realistic option. But the fact that the public wants it is a reflection of their security concerns,” said a senior South Korean official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive issues. Said on the condition of doing. “What the public feels is important. We need to have a dialogue between South Korea and the US to build their confidence and make them feel that extended deterrence is not just a declaration.

These Russians stay at the Seoul airport to avoid call-ups to Ukraine.

North Korea is moving ahead with its five-year nuclear development plan, with leader Kim Jong-un promising a “rapid increase” in his arsenal this year. In September, North Korea adopted a more aggressive law that said it could use nuclear weapons “if any power tries to violate the fundamental interests of our state.” The North is also developing tactical nuclear weapons, which have a low explosive yield and short range — and are aimed south.

“The North’s recent push for short-range missiles and a tactical nuclear capability has raised security concerns among the South Korean public, which is urgently needed,” said Jenna Kim, a security expert at Hankook University of Foreign Studies in Seoul. are seen as threats.” As North Korea advances its nuclear ambitions, allies must also adjust their efforts to deter Pyongyang by preparing for specific nuclear attack scenarios, he said.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and his South Korean counterpart Lee Jong-sup met in Seoul last week to discuss how to reaffirm US commitment to South Korea. According to a joint statement, they announced new initiatives, including holding a nuclear tabletop exercise this month and increasing the “level and scale” of their joint exercises.

Choi said South Korea wants a greater role and involvement in the alliance’s deterrence efforts, not only by consulting on policies, but also how those policies are implemented and how joint military operations are designed and conducted. is given

He said South Korean policymakers are most concerned about the leaders of North Korea and China no longer believing that U.S. commitments to extended deterrence are credible. This is especially the case when it comes to whether the United States will use its nuclear weapons to defend South Korea.

During most of the Cold War, the United States kept nuclear-armed arsenals in South Korea. Then, in 1991, President George HW Bush initiated the withdrawal of all tactical nuclear weapons deployed overseas. In 2016, then South Korean President Park Geun-hye reportedly asked the US to redeploy tactical weapons but was refused.

Public opinion polls over the past decade have shown a steady increase in support for South Korea’s nuclear weapons program, ranging from 60 to 70 percent of the population. A new poll released last week by the Seoul-based Chey Institute for Advanced Studies found that 76.6 percent of 1,000 respondents supported a domestic nuclear weapons capability.

A North Korean drone entered the no-fly zone near the presidential office in Seoul.

A Biden administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters, said the United States had made clear there would be a “tremendous response” in the event of a nuclear attack, and that U.S. policymakers believed the South Koreans understand this. The costs and benefits and overwhelming risks of having our own nuclear weapons.

Kim, from Hankook University, added that while there is public support, there has not been enough discussion of the potential downsides of going nuclear. He said that the South Korean military’s nuclear pursuit in violation of the NPT will also deal a blow to the country’s civilian nuclear industry.

Still, analysts agree that both countries need to do more.

“Assurance is less about whether an adversary is deterred and more about giving US allies a sense of security,” wrote Gu Myung-hyun, a research fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul. “While the coalition can do little militarily to deter North Korea from launching missiles and conducting nuclear tests, it can and must do more to strengthen reassurance.”

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