Weekly Chosun asks, ‘Why did France reject the American nuclear umbrella?’

In this week’s issue, the Weekly Chosun handles the question of South Korean nukes with due subtlety:


Mind you, the issue itself runs three stories on the cover issue—one guy offering a hardline response, another guy offering a softball response, and another guy offering a middle-of-the-road response.

However, I think it’s been pretty clear which way the Chosun would like to move with the domestic nuke issue. Which is fine with me, as I lean strongly in that direction, too.

  • SomeguyinKorea

    Just another way to subsidize the cheabols.

  • dlbarch

    All right, I’ll bite.

    I have one question for Robert, and one question only:

    Do you think Korea should have independent launch authority over any nuclear arsenal it develops, or do you think the U.S. should have a veto over any SoKo use of its putative nuclear arsenal?

    BTW, I resolve not to respond no matter what the answer is, so feel free to go to town.


  • que337

    I have a question for you too. How could your support for Mr. Bandow reconcile with your opposition to SK’s independent nuclearization?

  • http://www.rjkoehler.com Robert Koehler

    What’s the fun if you don’t respond?

    Anyway, no, I don’t think the US should have a veto over whether South Korea should use its putative nuclear arsenal. If that were the case, it would be much cheaper for South Korea to try to get a nuclear sharing deal with the Americans:


    One of the biggest reasons for developing an independent nuclear arsenal—perhaps the biggest reason—is to ensure that real and potential threats don’t miscalculate by ensuring there will be retaliation even if the United States fails to honor its commitments. That’s why the French built ’em. It’s why the Israelis built ’em. I’m guessing it’s why the Brits keep theirs. Giving the US a veto on launch authority would defeat the point. At any rate, with the US poised to hand over wartime operational command to the South Korean military, why are we even talking about this?

  • Horace Jeffery Hodges

    My emotional impulse is to agree with Robert. Let South Korea develop the bomb. Get into an arms race with the North and show them what a real high-tech powerhouse can do. The North’ll feel the heat when it just can’t compete!

    But my reason points out that Japan will then go nuclear. And why not Taiwan? Vietnam? Other countries? And so it goes. More and more nuclear states. Does that seem like a safer world? Many have thought not, hence the NPT.

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    It does. Safety is in balance. When you have conditions of unnatural imbalance, such as a putrid state like North Korea having nukes but Sooth Korea lacking them, you have a case of dangerous imbalance. Let Sk have the amount of nukes that would reflect its economic and industrial superiority over the North, which means about 15-20 times more nukes than the North. The genie has long ago been let out of the bottle and it isn’t going back.

  • dlbarch

    No, my inquiry was genuine. Sometimes on MH I see someone I respect take a very different view of things, but rather than get all “rough and tumble,” I find it good to step back and just see what they have to say.

    So I won’t get into why I think you’re spectacularly wrong other than to say…no, wait I better stop.

    BTW, you ask above “At any rate, with the US poised to hand over wartime operational command to the South Korean military, why are we even talking about this?”

    Actually, that was the point of my query, i.e., whether you saw a SoKo nuclear arsenal as something that is so monumental a change in military capacity that it should remain outside any transfer of OC authority.

    Anyway, ’til next time,

  • que337

    DLB wrote:

    “it’s (past) time for the Americans to disengage from the Korean peninsula”

    “Over time, the illogic of America’s ossified presence in an increasingly rich and strong country will sink in and make lesser and lesser sense, especially to American taxpayers.”

    Does it make sense you still wish nuke under the control of the US?

  • dlbarch

    Q, I’ve said this over and over, and I simply don’t understand why you don’t get it.

    South Korea is free to pursue a homegrown nuclear arsenal in the absence of an American troop presence in South Korea. That’s fine.

    But, so long as the United States is placing blood and treasure into Korea’s security, Seoul has no right to place American troops in greater harm’s way by going outside the U.S. nuclear umbrella.

    I absolutely favor a phased withdrawal of American ground troops from South Korea. Period.

    But until that day comes, Washington must not countenance Seoul pursuing any nuclear weapons development program that risks placing American troops in greater danger than they already are. Full stop.

    If SoKo really wants nukes, then by all means, develop them…but just let the Americans exit first.


  • que337

    Then, why not start with revising the agreement on the use of atomic energy so that SK could reprocess uranium, as Japan does?

  • dlbarch

    That’s a different issue. You asked about nukes, now you’re asking about nuclear reprocessing. The latter may indeed lead to the former, but if you believe Seoul (I don’t), SoKo’s desire for a reprocessing capacity stops short of its official line on nuclear weapons.

    (Contrary to all the current right-wing commentary in Seoul, neither the MND nor the Korean Joint Chiefs have expressed any interest in developing nuclear weapons. Officially, anyway.)

    But don’t worry, Q…Seoul will get its nuclear fuel reprocessing capacity soon enough. If we know anything about U.S. policy-making, it’s that Washington will eventually give in to Seoul’s demands, “in the interest of alliance harmony.”


  • dlbarch

    BTW, for all you PoliSci and International Relations majors out there, keep a close eye on the inter-alliance bargaining aspect of this issue. What we are seeing here is a classic example of non-governmental actors in Seoul (with or maybe without government encouragement) pushing the extremes of this issue in hope of leveraging popular sentiment into a strong negotiating position vis-a-vis Washington.

    The framework for inter-alliance talks is already taking shape as Seoul demanding (and getting) a nuclear enrichment deal with Washington “in exchange for” curtailing popular demands for nuclear weapons development.

    Talk about moving the goalposts!

    And where have we seen this kind of leveraging before? Yup…North Korea does it all the time.

    Plus ca change, baby. Plus ca change.


  • que337

    Why does it bother you, when actually it would facilitate the US disengagement from SK (which is your wish)?

  • que337

    The nuclear reprocessing is not a different issue. It is a part of the issue. And how convincing the “alliance” is when on the other hand you have in mind disengaging from Korean peninsula whenever it serves the best interest of America? What SK asking for is not hurting “alliance” but more sharing of security responsibility proportionate to the economy and growing threat from NK.

  • Dokdoforever

    In general, I’d agree that the NPT would appear incompatible with an industrializing world, especially 30 or 50 years down the line. More and more dyads of states with conflicts will want nukes. On the other hand, more developing nations with nukes really increases the probability of a mistaken launch. Woops.. sorry for destroying New Delhi. Then what happens? Escalation? If other nations get sucked in, that could be the end of everything. Nukes decrease the odds of war, but they also raise the costs of a mistake. And humans and their institutions keep on making mistakes.

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    Incentives play a big role here. Yes, dumb mistakes do happen, but more often mistakes are incentivized. A North Korea looks at the South and calculates that there are pretty good odds that even if they strike with a small atom bomb, the US will not automatically respond with nukes. Furthermore, they know that the US would never strike back against a large conventional offensive with nukes. So there is an incentive to push the envelope. Now, if the South has nukes, those incentives, or rather disincentives change. The North knows the answer to a small nuke strike would be a nuclear (and probably much larger) one. It also knows that because the South lacks the conventional firepower to cause the damage they can do (pretty much purely due to proximity of large urban centers to conventional artillery) any serious conventional or biological/gas strike against Seoul would be answered with nukes.