Voices of caution came from the outgoing and incoming governments over escalating calls from conservative political circles for nuclear armament following the North’s nuclear test Tuesday.
Kim Jang-soo, designated to lead the incoming government’s security control tower, expressed his opposition to the idea of nuclear armament Friday, saying it was a sensitive issue that should not be taken lightly.
Following North Korea’s third nuclear test, talk of whether Seoul should develop its own atomic weapons or seek the redeployment of U.S. strategic nuclear arms has resurfaced.
“Political circles talk about this and that (about the nuclear armament). We need to (carefully) look into this issue and it is a very sensitive one that is related to South Korea’s national interest,” he said in a media interview.
“We can leave all possibilities open. But one should not talk about it that easily.”
As Kim is to lead the national security office to be created inside Cheong Wa Dae during President-elect Park Geun-hye’s term, observers said his remarks might reflect the incoming leader’s stance.
In an interview with the Korean daily Dong-A Ilbo published Friday, President Lee Myung-bak also remained against the nuclear armament, stressing such discussion was still “premature.”
“Now, we are at a time when the world strives to dismantle nuclear arms. Thus, talking about us pursuing nuclear armament is incongruent,” he said.
“But I highly respect such a claim, which stems from their patriotism. Their claim could serve as a warning to North Korea or China, and there should be such people in our society, who make that claim.”
Arguments that Seoul needs a nuclear deterrent have been put forward by conservative politicians.
In a radio interview on Thursday, Rep. Won Yoo-chul of the ruling Saenuri Party said, “It is about the time to discuss South Korea’s nuclear armament, including the redeployment of U.S. tactical nukes on the premise that the nukes will immediately be discarded when the North dismantles their own atomic bombs.”
Rep. Chung Mong-joon of the same party has long called for South Korea’s nuclear armament, stressing, “Seoul can no longer deal with a neighboring rogue state armed with a machine gun, when it only has a piece of stone.”
Military strategists said Seoul should seek the “balance of nuclear power” with its own nuclear arms.
But some experts said the disadvantages of bringing nuclear weapons to the South would outweigh the advantages. They cautioned that Seoul could face strong resistance from the U.S. as well as the entire international community, which has long upheld the non-proliferation principle for world peace.
U.S. President Barack Obama unveiled his vision of creating a “nuclear-free” world in his historic speech in April 2009 in Prague. To uphold the vision, he initiated the Nuclear Security Summit in 2010 with an aim of a “four-year lockdown” of all vulnerable nuclear materials. Seoul backed Obama’s nuclear security initiatives by hosting the summit in 2012.
“President Obama, who called for a nuclear free world, would not agree to the idea of Seoul’s nuclear armament,” said Nam Chang-hee, security expert at Inha University.
“On top of that, the Lee Myung-bak government hosted the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul last year, and Seoul’s policy toward the North has centered on the North’s denuclearization. So such an idea is self-contradictory.”
Kim Ho-sup, international politics professor at Chung-Ang University, echoed Nam’s view.
“Pyongyang’s pursuit of nuclear arms is driven by political motivations to raise its bargaining power. It is a last-resort political weapon. Thus, I am skeptical about the attempt to resolve a political issue through a military approach such as a preemptive strike,” he said.
By Song Sang-ho (email@example.com