Calls growing in South Korea for nuclear armament
SEOUL, Sept. 11 (Yonhap) -- A group of security and nuclear experts has recently launched a think tank to discuss ways to arm South Korea with nuclear weapons, while ruling party lawmakers on Sunday 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 is the first known South Korean think tank on the nuclear armament issue whose launch comes amid North Korea's accelerating nuclear and missile threats.
On Friday, North Korea conducted its fifth nuclear test, only eight months after its fourth nuclear test in January.
The think tank's launch coincided with growing calls for South Korea's own nuclear weapons program in the face of growing nuclear threats from the North.
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 Korea's nuclear armament constitutes a direct violation of the Nonproliferation Treaty, which could lead to international sanctions and jeopardize the South Korea-U.S. Defense Treaty, government officials said.
An exhibition of a possible nuclear attack on Seoul at the War Memorial of Korea in Seoul. (Yonhap file photo)
It would also weaken the grounds for South Korea's calls to denuclearize North Korea, they said.
As a middle ground, redeployment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea could be one option, experts claimed.
All U.S. tactical nuclear weapons were removed from South Korea in a joint Seoul-Pyongyang declaration in 1992, which was signed to make the Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons.
"Deploying tactical nuclear weapons again in South Korea could have the effect of shortening the response time (after being attacked), as well as the symbolic meaning that any nuclear attack will be retaliated with a nuclear weapon," one military official said.
North Korea's nuclear capacities have raised calls among some South Korean conservatives for Seoul's own nuclear weapons development to deal with North Korea's nuclear programs.
"We plan to steadily increase our membership to about 20 people," Cheong of the Sejong Institute said, adding, "We are also considering publishing a book that outlines various opinions on the nuclear armament issue."
A public debate on nuclear armament at the National Assembly on Aug. 4, 2016. (Yonhap file photo)
North Korea's fifth nuclear test has proved the clear limits of the international community's sanctions on North Korea in denuclearizing the country, he said.
"South Korea should not stick to the sanctions approach whose effect is very limited. Instead, the country should show off to North Korea that Seoul, the world's sixth largest nuclear energy power, can outpace Pyongyang in the nuclear weapons front," according to the expert.
Kim Tae-woo, a former head of the state-run Korea Institute for National Unification and a member of the new think tank, said the research group plans to provide the result of their discussion to the government.