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(News Focus) Conservative lawmakers, inter-Korean experts call for S. Korea's nuke armament

2016/08/04 13:38

By Kang Yoon-seung

SEOUL, Aug. 4 (Yonhap) -- Conservative lawmakers from the ruling Saenuri Party and inter-Korean relations experts on Thursday called on South Korea to take strong action in the face of growing threats from North Korea, including the acquisition of nuclear weapons for self-defense.

At a forum chaired by Rep. Won Yoo-chul, a five-term lawmaker, in Seoul, local participants stressed the need for a paradigm change on cross-border issues and defense.

"Since North Korea left the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1993, there has been universal condemnation against Pyongyang's missile and nuclear provocations. But the issue shows no sign of progress," Won pointed out.

The former floor leader of the Saenuri Party has been a strong advocate of Seoul becoming a nuclear weapons state.

Won said the discussion on taking a stronger stand against the North's nuclear armament, including the South moving to develop nuclear capabilities is vital as the geopolitical tension on the Korean Peninsula continues to escalate.

"If North Korea conducts a fifth nuclear test, South Korea should immediately move to arm itself with nuclear capabilities. The existing policies are insufficient to stop the North's technology development," Won claimed.

The lawmaker added that Pyongyang's missile provocation observed on Wednesday also proves North Korea's unwillingness to change.

Kim Hee-ok, the party's interim leader, also agreed that South Korea needs to build more capacity as U.S. Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump has warned Washington could relocate its troops outside of South Korea. He said such a move poses a serious threat to the power balance in Northeast Asia.

Experts that have been keeping tabs on international politics concurred that nuclear armament for South Korea is inevitable if the U.S. policy on the Korean Peninsula goes through a major shift.

"The only reason we have not developed nukes is because the U.S. has given its guarantee to defend South Korea under its nuclear umbrella. If this policy changes, however, the country has no choice other than to go nuclear to defend itself," said Lee Su-seok, a researcher from the Institute for National Security Strategy said.

Kim Tae-woo, a professor of military studies at Kongyang University, also said securing military deterrence capability is not a choice, but a vital part of South Korea's relationship with Pyongyang.

"People tend to think that a country can choose between dialogue, sanctions and military deterrence with an enemy. But such a concept is wrong," Kim said. "Seoul should maintain its deterrence capability until Pyongyang's nuke provocations end."

   In line with the remark, Kim said the opposition bloc's claims that dialogue should take precedence over the deployment of a U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system is unrealistic and illogical.

Kim, the former head of the Korea Institute for National Unification, said South Korea's discussion on nuclear armament is important because on the Korean Peninsula, there is currently an imbalance of power since Seoul has to fight Pyongyang's nuclear power with only conventional weapons.

"To tackle North Korea's nukes, South Korea must be capable of rolling out defense, protection and retaliation if attacked. But without Seoul having its own nukes, there can be no balance of power, and this situation will permit Pyongyang to lead the game," Kim added.

Kim then pointed out that South Korea's development of nukes is only a matter of choice, and not an issue of technology and capabilities.

"THAAD is only a small part of the big picture which South Korea needs to establish," the scholar said. "We need to at least have a plan for the country's nuclear armament."

   Despite calls for deterrence, local experts said South Korea still should maintain the alliance with the U.S., regardless of its nuclear armament.

"The best scenario is having the U.S. change its paradigm on the alliance. Israel is also armed with nukes, but still boasts close ties with Washington," Kim added.

Song Dae-sung, a former researcher at the Sejong Institute, said South Korea should have taken stronger action against the communist regime when North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test early this year.

"The world without nuclear weapons is a luxury we cannot afford," Song said, adding Seoul should consider suggesting a deadline to China to make efforts to disarm Pyongyang of nukes, and otherwise find another way, including developing nukes by itself.

Other experts, however, said South Korea should take a more careful approach when it comes to the discussion of nuclear development.

"We must think why we should develop a nuke. Is it for the denuclearization, or is it to seek balance with the North?" Kim Han-kwon, a professor at Korea National Diplomatic Academy, said. "If the goal is to pave the way for the unification, then there need to be more discussions."

   "There should also be exchanges of ideas on the possible side effects of nuclear development, including how to carry on its alliance with the U.S. after the armament," the professor said, adding Seoul should also consider its relationship with other neighbors, including China.

colin@yna.co.kr

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