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(Yonhap Interview) Redeployment of U.S. nuclear weapons in S. Korea would only make situation worse: expert

2017/03/07 10:00

By Chang Jae-soon and Shim In-sung

WASHINGTON, March 6 (Yonhap) -- Redeployment of U.S. nuclear weapons in South Korea would legitimize North Korea's nuclear weapons, bring an end to any chance of a diplomatic resolution, and make the situation more dangerous, a U.S. expert said Monday.

Instead, the U.S. and the South should consider adding more missile defenses, such as the Israeli-made "Iron Dome" system designed to defend against missile and artillery attacks, Robert Manning, a senior analyst at the Atlantic Council think tank, said in an email interview with Yonhap News Agency.

Talk of reintroducing tactical U.S. nuclear weapons to the South has resurfaced after the New York Times reported over the weekend that the administration of President Donald Trump is looking at that possibility as a "dramatic warning" to Pyongyang as it crafted its North Korea policy.

The U.S. withdrew its nuclear weapons from the South in the early 1990s at the end of the Cold War.

"If you redeploy nuclear weapons in the South, then you legitimize North Korea's program and end any chance of a diplomatic resolution. It would be a serious mistake, would not pressure the North, but only bolster Kim Jong Un's position internally, as he would point to the increased foreign threat and use it to exert tighter control and patriotic support," Manning said.

"It would only make a precarious situation more dangerous," he said.

Manning said that U.S. President George H.W. Bush decided in 1991 to pull tactical weapons out of South Korea so as to allow diplomacy toward North Korea to go forward, because it removed a justification for the North's nuclear weapons program.

Nuclear weapons do not have to be in the South for the U.S. nuclear umbrella to be effective, he said.

Robert Manning, a senior analyst at the Atlantic Council Robert Manning, a senior analyst at the Atlantic Council

Bringing nuclear weapons back to the South is one of a wide range of options the Trump administration is considering. Other options reportedly include preemptive strikes, though it was unclear how seriously such extreme case options are being reviewed.

"All new administrations need to do policy reviews and must look at the full spectrum of possible options. That doesn't mean they all are viable or make sense," Manning said. "Unless you can move Great Seoul and its 28 million people 1000 miles south, there is no preemption option in which the benefit outweighs the risk of war."

   In recent weeks, Trump has expressed serious concern about the North's nuclear and missile program, especially after the North fired a newly developed intermediate-range ballistic missile on Feb. 12.

Trump has called the North "a big, big problem," "a world menace" and said he's "very angry" at the North's missile launch. He also effectively ruled out the possibility of a dialogue with the North's leader while pressuring China to rein in Pyongyang.

His concerns about the North are believed to have deepened in the wake of the Feb. 13 killing by a chemical weapons agent of Kim Jong-nam, the estranged half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, and Monday's launch of four ballistic missiles.

Manning said the successive missile launches would affect Trump's policy on Pyongyang.

"The North Korea missile tests are part of an on-going effort to rapidly advance its missile and WMD capabilities, and only serve as a reminder of the growing threat as the U.S. tries to rethink its policy toward Pyongyang," he said.

The expert said, however, that Kim Jong-nam's killing is also deeply troubling because the use of the nerve agent VX in the killing has shown that the North has large chemical weapons stockpiles, but has not joined the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).

"A new demand that North Korea join the CWC and destroy its chemical weapons needs to be part of any policy not only for the US, but also ROK-Japan-China-Russia," Manning said. "Kim was clearly making a political statement with the VX: I have these weapons and am willing to use them."

   Manning also said that whatever a new North Korea policy is, it's important to maintain some channel of dialogue.

"Trump's policy will seek to maximize pressure and undermine Kim's goals," he said of the North's leader. "But that should not preclude some type of dialogue."

   When it comes to the North, there is no good policy, he said. But the "least bad strategy" would be to tighten sanctions, strengthen deterrence and defenses, and step up the campaign to send outside information into the North, he said.

"More layers of missile defense are possible, consider, for example, something like the Israeli Iron Dome to protect Seoul, or deploying the new SM3-2A anti-missile system on ROK Aegis cruisers to provide a mobile defense capability," he said.

Manning said the Trump administration shouldn't expect China to resolve the problem.

"Trump has exaggerated China's influence. We need to avoid asking China to solve it," he said.

Five parties of the six-party talks on the North's nuclear program -- South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the U.S. -- should hold five-party talks to coordinate policies and consult to manage stability in the region, he said.

The expert was highly critical of China's opposition to the planned deployment of the THAAD missile defense system in South Korea. Beijing has taken a number of measures hurting South Korean businesses in retaliation for Seoul's decision to host THAAD.

"If China used economic coercion against North Korea as it is doing to the ROK, the nuclear issue might actually be solved. Privately, they know that THAAD does not compromise their nuclear deterrent," he said. "China can not deny the ROK the ability to defend itself."

   China has made a "mistake" by insulting and angering many in the South with its retaliatory measures, he said.