Media Today took a look at conservative calls South Korea to develop its own nuclear deterrent, and presented counterarguments by a couple of progressive analysts.

Saenuri Party lawmaker and former party chief Chung Mong-joon (who, as a Hyundai scion, is Korea’s seventh richest man) was the first to get on the South Korean nuclear bandwagon, telling an assembly of lawmakers yesterday that Seoul needed to convince the United States that if North Korea goes nuclear, South Korea, too, would have no choice but to acquire “a minimum of self-defensive power.” He added, “You can’t say you can defend your home with a single stone when your thug neighbor has bought the latest machine gun.” He said with North Korea’s nukes hanging above South Korea’s head, Seoul now needed to decide whether to leave South Korea’s security in North Korea’s hands or remove North Korea’s nukes, even if Seoul must make certain sacrifices to do this.

Rep. Won Yoo-chul—who, incidentally, used to be chairman of the National Assembly’s National Defense Committee—said Seoul needed to comprehensively considered from multiple angles the need to declare that South Korea would arm itself with nuclear weapons, based on the premise that it would abandon these weapons immediately once the North Korean nuclear issue is resolved. He said Seoul should also consider whether it should ask the United States to redeploy tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea and revise plans to reassume wartime operational command and abolish the CFC so that these take place only after a resolution to the North Korean nuclear issue is achieved.

Then there’s former Weekly Chosun magazine editor Cho Gap-je, who has been leading the charge for a South Korean Force de Frappe over at his website. In a piece posted yesterday, he laid out ten points for why and how South Korea should go nuclear. They are:

  1. Korea can develop nuclear weapons in a short period of time, and they can make much more and much better ones than the North Koreans.
  2. Korea has a leading nuclear power industry, so it can build reprocessing and uranium enrichment facilities with its own technology. And Korea’s got a ton of used nuclear fuel and uranium to reprocess/enrich.
  3. Legally speaking, the things preventing Korea from going nuclear are the NPT and the bilateral nuclear agreement with the United States.
  4. South Korea should withdraw from the NPT and amend its bilateral agreement with the United States. South Korea could do this by noting that the international community failed to stop North Korea from going nuclear, creating for South Korea a fatal security crisis. South Korea’s nukes should be considered an exercise in sovereignty for national survival. To convince the international community of this, strong diplomacy would be needed.
  5. South Korea’s nuclear weapons development would be different in character from those of North Korea, Israel, India and Pakistan. For South Korea, nuclear weapon development would be a choice for survival since the international community stood by and watched while North Korea developed its nuclear weapons first.
  6. Seoul should declare openly that it intends to develop nuclear weapons, even if the actual development is conducted in secret. Seoul needs to do this legally and with chin up. Seoul should also make clear that it is prepared to abandon its nuclear program if North Korea abandons its nuclear program.
  7. South Korea should develop its nukes with public consensus. You can even hold a referendum. We must give the international community the impression that nuclear weapons are an overwhelming demand of the public and cannot be stopped.
  8. A movement to develop nukes could become a golden opportunity for Koreans to overcome their longtime servility and flunkyism. If Koreans come together to decide on their own survival, it could resolve a lot of the illnesses of Korean society.
  9. Korea must accept some economic losses in the name of security. Moreover, if Korea pleads with and convinces the international community with rational arguments, it might not get slapped with sanctions. It’s almost impossible for market economies to slap economic sanctions on one another (Marmot’s Note: Somebody tell the South Africans that). In this regard, the KORUS FTA is a safety valve. The way to overcoming servility and flunkyism is to strengthen Korea’s diplomatic power so that it can deal with American and Chinese pressure after stressing that Korea faced a crisis after it was threatened by a nuclear-armed gangster state and making it clear that it would abandon its nukes once the North did.
  10. We must continuously convene mass gatherings in Gwanghwamun calling for South Korea to develop nukes.

Cho’s former mother paper, the Chosun Ilbo, called for South Korea to develop nukes in an editorial yesterday (Marmot’s Note: see my summary in yesterday’s post), and the Segye Ilbo did the same, calling for a revision to South Korea’s bilateral nuclear agreement with the United States banning Seoul from nuclear reprocessing.

Not everyone’s getting on the bandwagon, though. Yonsei professor and Western media favorite Moon Jung-in told Media Today that not only would South Korea’s development of nuclear weapons by unreasonable, but it would be “rash nuclear ethno-nationalism” that could lead to the suspension of the development of Korea’s domestic nuclear industry.

He also poo-pooed the idea of getting the United States to redeploy tactical nukes to South Korea, noting that the United States has been destroying its tactical nukes since Bush Senior, and that it removed its tactical nukes formerly deployed at Gunsan Air Base because the cost of maintaining and securing them outweighed their benefit. He said tactical nukes had disappeared from recent US strategic concepts.

About South Korea developing its own nukes, Moon said such voices are growing louder with Park Geun-hye taking office since her father tried to develop nuclear weapons, but the problem is where to get the uranium and plutonium. He said Seoul asked the Americans to allow them to reprocess spent fuel in last year’s talks to revise the bilateral nuclear agreement, but the United States said no precisely because the Americans were concerned the Koreans could use reprocessed fuel to build nuclear weapons.

If the Koreans try to secretly bring in plutonium and uranium, it would violate the NPT and nuclear fuel provisions from the IAEA’s NSG would be suspended immediately. This could suspend the development of Korea’s nuclear power industry. And even if South Korea does succeed in developing nuclear weapons, would the North Koreans be frightened? Instead of a deterrent, it would lead to nuclear proliferation, and Northeast Asia would suffer from a nuclear domino effect with Japan and China getting involved.

Kim Jong-dae, the editor-in-chief of progressive military affairs journal Defense 21, also told Media Today that not only does the United States not have nuclear weapons to place in South Korea, but it disassembled all its tactical nukes everywhere in the 1990s because it was already widely accepted that battlefield nukes were useless. Moreover, it would be risky and politically burdensome for the United States to redeploy tactical nukes to the South, so why would they?

Kim said the North Korean nuclear test is a question of nuclear proliferation, and the United States is looking to prevent nuclear proliferation, so placing nukes in South Korea would create a contradiction. It’s a mistake to believe the United States will do anything South Korea asks just because it’s an ally.

Kim said Korea has developed economically by following the rules of the international community, and it wasn’t worth considering arming South Korea with nukes by severing all those relationships should it withdraw from the NPT and declare it would develop nukes.

Media Today also notes that unlike the Chosun Ilbo, the JoongAng Ilbo and other conservative papers said South Korea should not abandon the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula nor develop nuclear weapons.

Marmot’s Note: When you live in a neighborhood when China, Russia and North Korea all have nukes, I see no reason why South Korea shouldn’t have them. Would it pressure the North to abandon its nuclear program? Probably not—the North pursues its nuclear program primarily to blackmail the United States. Still, South Korea’s got plenty of other security concerns outside of North Korea, and an independent nuclear arsenal would serve to keep its neighbors honest.

As for Korea suffering sanctions, I’m not so sure that will happen. Not in the long-term, anyway. The United States eventually reconciled itself to a nuclear India, and South Korea not only has a much closer security relationship with the United States than India, but it’s in a neighborhood with three other nuclear powers. I think Seoul could convincingly argue to the international community that they did things their way, and all it got South Koreans was a nuclear gun pointed at their head with Kim Jong-un on the trigger.

Anyway, in another piece, Cho Gap-je asks why the United States would punish South Korea for developing nuclear weapons when the United States OK’d India’s nuclear program, to say nothing of all the aid Washington gave Pakistan in the War on Terror:

인도와 파키스탄은 核확산금지조약에 가입하지 않은 나라이다. 그런 나라에 대하여 미국이 이렇게 협조적인 것은, 두 나라가 미국의 國益(국익)에 소중한 존재이기 때문이다. 인도는 중국을 견제하고, 파키스탄은 알카에다와 탈레반을 견제한다. 東北亞에서 미국의 전략적 利害(이해)관계에 보조를 맞추어온 한국은 파키스탄과 인도보다 못한 존재인가? 한국 정부와 한국인들은 자신들의 전략적 가치를 미국에 대하여 한번도 시험해본 적이 없다. 몸값이 얼마나 높은지도 모른다.
미국에 있어서 한국은 전략적, 경제적, 군사적 몸값이 영국, 프랑스, 독일, 인도에 못지 않는 나라가 되었다. 더구나 우리는 참을 만큼 참아 왔다. 6者 회담이 국제사기극이란 사실을 알면서도 굴욕을 참고 미국과 보조를 맞추려 하였다. 더 참는 것은 노예의 삶이다.