Not long ago, Korea Gallup surveyed the opinions of a total of 1,006 persons in the Republic of Korea (ROK) in the South above the age of 19 if they wanted to have nuclear weapons. Sixty four percent of the respondents said they did while only 28% said no with the rest saying they were undecided.
North Korea has announced that it will ‘explode a big thing before the end of April’ and this is understood in Seoul to mean that the North is going to carry out its fourth nuclear bomb test underground. This is expected to supply real energy to the movement in the ROK to demand its own development of nuclear deterrent against the North Korean nuclear weapons.
At forefront of the people in favor of the ROK’s going nuclear to deter North Korea from waging a nuclear war against the South is the ruling Saenuri Party Candidate Chung Mong-joon for the upcoming Seoul mayoral election slated on June 4 this year. Most recent survey indicates that Chung is on a par with Co-Chairman Ahn Cheol-soo in a survey on the Presidential candidates in 2017. If Chung wins the Seoul mayoral election, he is expected to even prevail on Ahn in the Presidential race.
Chung was recently quoted by a Korean-language media as saying, “Kill Chain? Korea air missile defense? They are useless in the face of the North Korean nuclear weapons!” Then he reminded that “supporters of our nuclear weapons development number more than double the opponents.”
Against this backdrop, a Korean-language Sunday daily, Ilyo Shinmun, on April 1, 2014, carried an interesting story on the development of nuclear weapons by the Republic of Korea (ROK) in the South and the relationship between President Park Chung-Hee and the United States government. It shows the plan of President Park to complete a self-supporting national economy and a self-reliant national defense through development of nuclear weapons by 1983 and his retirement from the government and politics for good.
He said, “At the Armed Forces Day celebration meeting on Oct. 1, 1983, I will disclose our nuclear weapons and at the same time I will announce my retirement from the government and politics. President Kim Il-Sung of North Korea will never have the nerves to invade us if he learns that we have the nuclear weapons.”
The story merits keen attention at this time when the majority of the people in the ROK are now demanding its development of nuclear weapons to cope with the North Korean threat and intimidation of nuclear strikes. Excerpts:
On March 25, 2014, President Park Geun-hye attended the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague, the Netherlands, and stated in her keynote speech, “The North Korean nuclear development program poses a serious concern in the context of all aspects of nuclear security such as non-proliferation, nuclear security and nuclear safety and therefore it must be discarded at all cost.” Then she emphasized that a world without nuclear weapons must begin on the Korean peninsula.
During the Cold War Era, however, the late President Park Chung-Hee (her father) was very much worried about the North Korean nuclear threats, and had a very much different idea from his daughter.
He adopted as his life-time goal the economic development of the Republic of Korea and construction of a self-reliant national defense through development of nuclear weapons.
Under pressures coming from the military provocations by the North Korean regime on the one hand and the US demand from the ROK to give up nuclear sovereignty on the other, President Park Chung-Hee refused to succumb either to North Korea or to the United States. A new book by Shim Yong-Tae, “The White Bear Soars into the Sky,” contains much of the behind-the-scenes stories concerning the nuclear development of the Fourth Republic and sheds light to the “dream that President Park was unable to realize.” Here are the excerpts:
On Oct. 19, 1974, the ROK and France signed an Atomic Energy Cooperation Agreement, which opened the ‘Park Chung-Hee Nuclear Development Program.’ It was very important for the ROK to acquire the technologies needed for the production of nuclear fuel through enriching uranium and reprocessing the spent nuclear fuel.
At that time, France adopted as its top-priority state policy its atomic energy business with the ROK. The French government invited the Korean delegation to visit various nuclear energy facilities, including those used in reprocessing the expended nuclear fuel. The going was very smooth between the ROK and France.
President Park firmly believed that the ultimate solution to realizing a self-reliant national defense was to develop nuclear weapons. He was fully are that the nuclear weapons had an incomparably strong power of destruction compared with conventional weapons and believed that completion of nuclear armament was the only answer to the self-supporting national defense system that could deal a fatal blow to North Korea with a nuclear retaliation should it try to deal a blitzkrieg attack against the ROK in the South.
At that time, the ROK was seven to eight years ahead of North Korea in the development of nuclear weapons. It was urgent for the ROK to develop nuclear weapons well before North Korea if it wanted to deter the North Korean regime from waging another undeclared war against the ROK as it did on June 25, 1950--starting the three-year Korean War.
The ROK’s development of nuclear weapons was all the more urgent task in the situation at that time when the South Koreans could not trust in the US’ nuclear protection of the ROK. President Park Chung-Hee closely checked the development of nuclear weapons in North Korea through the use of the intelligence channels of the ROK and foreign countries and kept a close watch on every progress made by the North in that area. At the same time, Park pushed his own nuclear weapons program very carefully.
In October 1974, the then Ambassador Richard L. Sneider of the US in Seoul reported to the then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger that he had been closely monitoring the nuclear development activities of the ROK Government. This marked the beginning of the US intervention and obstruction operations against the ROK’s nuclear energy development.
The US government exerted pressure to bear on the ROK government to stop the latter’s purchasing of reprocessing facilities of expended nuclear fuel. The US government also brought pressure on the Canadian government to scrap an agreement signed between the ROK and the Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. (AECL) that provided for the supply of a research reactor. At the time, the ROK had already secured materials for the reactor design technology but AECL withdrew its sales deal with the ROK?with the result that it caused that much delay in the ROK’s nuclear development program.
Since then the US government continued to exert pressure on the ROK government and used all available means to force the ROK to give up its plan of purchasing nuclear fuel reprocessing facilities. The US government warned that the US would stop supplying fuel for the nuclear power plants; it would impose economic sanctions against the ROK, including increasing of restrictions on the import-export activities of the ROK; it would suspend its support for the ROK’s armed forces modernization program and the defense industry; and, finally, the US threatened that it would withdraw the US Forces from the ROK.
The US government threatened that it would sever all economic, military and scientific cooperation relations with the ROK, which directly affected the national fate of the ROK. Then came a de facto ultimatum, “Give up the reprocessing facilities if you do not want to face a total ruin.” It was obvious that if the US intimidations should be realized, the ROK would face a grave danger.
Perforce, President Park decided to back off moving a step back. It would take five to six years to actually develop and possess nuclear weapons and if the US should withdraw its armed forces from the ROK it would tip the balance of power between the ROK and North Korea in favor of the North, he told himself, and this could put the security of the ROK in jeopardy.
North Korea has been thinking that it could take over the South the moment the US Forces would leave Korea and bring the entire Korean peninsula under its Communist control. Park reasoned that this situation could lead the North Korean regime to a making a misjudgment that it was a time ripe for an all-out war against the South.
Ultimately on Jan. 26, 1976, President Park Chung-Hee abrogated the contract signed with France to purchase nuclear fuel reprocessing facilities.
The political situation in the United States, too, was by no means in favor of President Park Chung-Hee.
During the Presidential election campaign in the US in 1976, President Jimmy Carter made pledges to increase human rights diplomacy following its defeat in the Vietnam War and to withdraw the US Armed Forces from the ROK to woo the support of the American people. He told the American people that the human rights situation in the ROK was very serious and promised that he would pull back the US ground forces from the ROK because the human rights situation there was weakening his position on his human rights stance.
In the following year, after his successful election and inaugural ceremony, President Carter instructed his Administration to prepare a concrete plan to actually withdraw the US forces from Korea.
President Carter said that the withdrawal of the US troops from Korea was from a purely military decision, but inwardly he had in mind the human rights situation in the ROK for justifying the withdrawal of the US military troops.
President Carter reasoned that it was unacceptable to continue to station the US forces in the ROK and provide military assistance to the country where human rights situation did not improve. He said that pending improvement of the human rights situation in the ROK the US would withdraw its forces and suspend its support for the military beefup program of the ROK.
Response on the part of President Park Chung-Hee to this development in the US was swift and resolute.
In March 1977, President Park called and presided over a joint meeting of the government and the ruling party at the Presidential Mansion of Cheong Wa Dae to prepare plans to meet the new situation developing in the US. After hearing the reports and views from the competent ministries and offices, President Park expressed his displeasure with President Jimmy Carter over the latter’s announcement of the US military withdrawal in a unilateral breaching of promise made with the ROK that it would consult in advance with the ROK government on the question of the US troop withdrawal.
One leader of the ruling party said that the opposition party and the mass communications media were demanding the publication of the development of situation between the ROK and the US and the convocation of the National Assembly to deal with the issue.
On hearing this, President Park told the meeting: “Please open the National Assembly and clearly explain to all the lawmakers the position of the Korean government. The minister of foreign affairs must tell the US ambassador as soon as he comes back to Korea to publish the US plans immediately. Park told the foreign minister to tell the US ambassador, “I wish that the last US troops will not leave until the end of four years.”
“In particular, I hear that Under Secretary Philip C. Habib of the US talked about the human rights situation in the ROK and I think that this is taking place because the US was making light of us. You just tell the US ambassador that we want to see the last US military unit leaving the ROK by end of four years as was stated by the US, and don’t say thing that might make us appear to be begging them to stay. This must be told clearly to the US by the government, ruling party and the opposition party as well.”
Following this meeting, President Park Chung-Hee strongly demanded from the US appropriate measures to insure the security of the ROK following the withdrawal of the US troops and secured an agreement from President Carter at a ROK-US summit meeting that followed. Ultimately, in July 1979, US Presidential Security Advisor Zbigniew Kazimierz Brzezinski came to Korea and officially announced the decision of President Carter that until review of the military situation is completed, the US forces would not leave the ROK by 1981.
Following this development, the US was confident that it brought an end to the question of development of nuclear weapons in the ROK. However, it was not true. A diplomatic tug-of-war continued between the ROK and the US concerning the ROK’s development of nuclear weapons. President Park did not stop his nuclear projects but continued his effort for the nuclear project. As a result, President Park achieved a remarkable development. He launched a ‘White Bear’ into the sky.
On Sept. 26, 1978, the Agency for Defense Development successfully fired a ground-to-ground guided missile with a range of 180 kilometers with the technological support of France. This made the Republic of Korea the seventh country in the world to possess a guided missile.
It meant that if the ROK could develop nuclear bombs it now had a means to deliver the bombs. It was this time that the world media started reporting classifying the ROK as a potential country to possess nuclear weapons.
On the other hand, President Park Chung-Hee was determined that he would retire as the President of the ROK in 1982 by when the development of nuclear weapons would be completed. The year coincided with the ending year of the 4th Five Year Economic Development Plan when the ROK would be entering in real earnest the Era of Heavy and Chemical Industries. President Park was confident that if he would also succeed in developing nuclear weapons he would be completing his cherished plans for a self-supporting national economy and a self-reliant national defense which had been his life-time goal to achieve.
President Park had been thinking that it would be the time when he would retire from the political arena for good and that before the end of his tenure of office he would change the Yusin (Revitalizing Reforms) system into a democratic system through a Constitutional Amendment based on the result of a national referendum.
The Yusin Constitution provided that the prime minister shall be the Acting President when the President leaves office when the remaining period of the tenure of office is less than one calendar year. President Park wanted to perform the role of a midwife to give birth to a new all-nation government formed with all the different political parties with the prime minister handling all the affairs of the state during the period as a result of the National Assembly general elections and Presidential election.
Following the fall of Free Vietnam under a Communist regime in April 1976, President Park Chung-Hee told his eldest daughter, Geun-hye (now President of the ROK): “North Korea is more awful than the Viet Cong. The leader of a nation must save his country first when the country is at stake no matter what kind of criticism he might have to face. When I complete the self-reliant national defense and self-supporting national economy, I will voluntarily retire from politics even if the people insist that I should continue to lead the country. I do not know why some people have no patience and cannot wait until that time comes.”
On Jan. 1, 1979, President Park was mulling on the state affairs for the New Year at a resort in Haeundae Beach in Busan. At that time, he told Yujonghoe National Assemblyman Seonu Yeon (former Presidential press secretary) as follows: “At the Armed Forces Day celebration meeting on Oct. 1, 1983, I will disclose our nuclear weapons and at the same time I will announce my retirement from the government and politics. President Kim Il-Sung of North Korea will never have the nerves to invade us if he learns that we have the nuclear weapons.”
However, this dream of his was never materialized. A little more than nine months after his disclosure of plans to retire from government and politics, he died sudden death from the bullets fired at him by Director Kim Jae-Kyu of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency.
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