Now a growing number of people in the Republic of Korea (ROK) in the South want the country to develop and possess nuclear weapons to cope with the threat and intimidations by the nuclear-armed North Korean regime.
However, there also are opponents to this demand who are by no means so small even if they account for less than one half of the proponents of the nuclear armament, according to opinion surveys.
Here is one typical example of opposition to the ROK’s nuclear armament written by Director Wooksik Cheong of the Peace Network entitled, “Why did former President Park Chung-He fail in secretly developing nuclear weapons?” Excerpts follow:
Well-known Australian Diplomat Richard Butler, who led the 1996 Canberra Committee to rid the world of nuclear weapons, indicated that if one country has nuclear weapons other countries also want to have them. He asserted that the nuclear countries try to justify their possession of such weapons for their own security, but to other countries they say that they do not need them for their security. So far, he said, this assertion has proven futile.
Butler deplored that such unfairness and use of a double standard have produced a very unstable situation in the world because man does not like inequality.
American journalist Richard Rhodes also pointed out that this type of double standard used by the United States was also applied to North Korea and Iran.
The human instinct that does not approve of the use of a double standard, such as that of the US as pointed out by Butler and Rhodes, also applies to North Korea and to South Korea.
North Korea is engrossed in the development of nuclear weapons and missiles for security reasons to meet the US threats and also to strengthen the third-generation succession of power. However, there is another reason. It is North Korea’s resistance against the double standard used by the US and other big countries. Consequently, North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missiles have now become a question related with its sovereign right, which makes things that much more difficult to solve.
Following North Korea’s third nuclear test, the ruling camp in the ROK has begun raising the question of developing nuclear weapons by the ROK.
The ROK has been seeking to increase the range of its missiles as a question of its sovereign right as much as it is for the national security.
The situation is similar in the case of the nuclear weapons, too.
North Korea has now virtually become a nuclear country and this means that among the participating countries in the Six-Party Talks, only the ROK and Japan are non-nuclear countries.
Japan has large quantities of plutonium with which she can mass-produce nuclear bombs.
In contrast, the ROK is the only country among the parties to the Six-Party Talks, which does not have facilities to enrich uranium or reprocess nuclear fuel.
Against this backdrop, it is only natural that the ROK demands its nuclear sovereign right. The people in the ROK will consider it unfair that it is the country among the six Northeast Asian countries not to have nuclear weapons.
To be frank, however, the ROK’s pursuit for nuclear armament predates North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons. The ROK started it a lot earlier than North Korea did.
Director Donald Gregg of the US CIA Office in South Korea (later US ambassador in Seoul) during the rule of President Park Chung-He made the following remarks:
“In the 1970s in the Northeast Asian region, there was a country which secretly developed nuclear bombs and which put people to tortures. People may think that it might be North Korea. No. It was South Korea.” South Korea in the 1970s was similar to the situation of North Korea today.
After President Park Chung-Hee’s failure to develop nuclear weapons, a new demand for nuclear armament has surfaced in the ROK. Needless to say, this situation is developing because of North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons. Each time North Korea tested a nuclear bomb, demand rose in the ROK for its own nuclear armament, and then subsided. And this has continued in a cycle and repetition.
However, now we find things that are different from the past. First of all, North Korea is emerging as a nuclear country as a reality. North Korea succeeded in launching long-range missiles in December 2012 and announced in February 2013 that it has succeeded in a nuclear bomb testing saying that the bombs have become smaller, lighter and diverse.
This means that the North Korean nuclear threat has become qualitatively different from the past and this gives a ground to the proponents of nuclear armament in South Korea who seek an ‘eye-to-eye’ and ‘nuke-to-nuke’ response to the North Korean threat.
South Korea has been seeking to amend the provisions of the ROK-US Atomic Energy Agreement with a view to reprocessing the nuclear fuel, and this has been true also of the governments of President Lee Myung-bak and President Park Geun-hye.
At a meeting with the US Congressional leaders in Seoul, the then President-elect Park Geun-hye asked them for cooperation for the revision of the ROK-US Atomic Energy Agreement in a ‘future-oriented direction.’ A similar request was made also by the then Director-designate Kim Jang-soo of the Presidential National Security Office who said that the ROK should secure an agreement on matters related with reprocessing of the nuclear fuel because negotiations for the revision of the ROK-US Atomic Energy Agreement would soon start. Strangely, however, the deadline for the revision of the ROK-US Agreement scheduled to expire in 2014 coincides with North Korea’s strengthening of its ability for nuclear weapons and missiles.
Does the ROK have to be prepared for the abrogation of the ROK-US alliance if the ROK should insist on nuclear armament?
The ROK’s nuclear armament derives from its loss of trust in the ‘Nuclear Umbrella’ of the US. Since the Korean War, the ROK has been under this US nuclear umbrella. However, if North Korea develops nuclear weapons to strike the US mainland, will the US still protect the ROK at the risk of exposing Los Angeles to the danger of nuclear attack by North Korea?
However, people are considered to avoid a competition where both sides will die and from this the countries will try to constrain from the use of nuclear weapons when they are sure that it would cause codestruction.
In this regard, some claim that North Korea would not be able to deal a nuclear attack to the ROK unless the North is confident that the US will not deal a nuclear retaliation against the North.
However, the US will never let North Korea have such a belief. On the contrary, the US will promise to give a strong nuclear umbrella to the ROK and warn North Korea not to make a misjudgment.
The US would also say, “North Korea says that it has developed nuclear weapons in order to survive, but will the North Korean leaders use the nuclear weapons when they are sure that it could wipe out North Korea from the map of the world?”
Some people in the ROK might ask the US to bring strategic nuclear weapons into the country.
This, too, is a futile talk. It is because even if the US brings the strategic nuclear weapons into the country, the decision to use them or not will be in the hands of the US and not in the ROK government. This means that it does not matter where the US keeps such nuclear weapons--be it out in the sea, in the US mainland or anywhere else in the world.
The ROK-US alliance is a form of trade of a part of the ROK’s sovereignty for assurance of defense and security provided by the US.
The people in the ROK who are trying to develop nuclear weapons are like those who want to scrap the ROK-US alliance.
Some past examples could be reviewed to determine whether or not to develop nuclear weapons on our own.
There were two such instances. One of them was the effort made by the late former President Park Chung-Hee to secretly make nuclear weapons; the other was the ROK’s extraction of a very small amount of nuclear fission without reporting it to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 2004. The ROK got a good lesson the hard way on both occasions.
Some people in the ROK suggest that the ROK could diplomatically persuade the US to turn a blind eye to our development of nuclear weapons as in the case of Israel.
However, Israel is very much different from the ROK. First of all, Israel developed and secured nuclear weapons even before the formation of the NPT (non-proliferation treaty). Israel did not join the NPT either.
In contrast, the ROK should withdraw from the NPT and IAEA like North Korea did.
Geopolitically, too, there is a big difference.
Israel is the only country in the Middle East region possessing nuclear weapons. In the case of the ROK, however, there are Japan and Taiwan who would want to follow suit if the ROK should develop nuclear weapons.
This would mean that all the countries in the Northeast Asian, with the sole exception of Mongolia, would have nuclear weapons.
The ROK has a total of 21 nuclear power plants. However, the ROK needs reprocessing facilities to enrich uranium and produce plutonium if it wants to make nuclear weapons.
The moment the ROK starts developing nuclear bombs, export of uranium to the ROK would be banned. The ROK could think of using nuclear fuel and turn it into highly enriched uranium, but this would mean the suspension of operation of the nuclear power plants.
The ROK then could try to reprocess the expended nuclear fuel. We now have about 10,000 tons of used nuclear fuel and if we use them we could get a considerable amount of plutonium.
However, it, too, would not be easy because it is not clear if the US would agree to the ROK to do so. Even if the US approves, there would still be many obstacles in the way before we could produce nuclear weapons.
It would not be easy to build reprocessing facilities. The local people living in the regions where they would be built would offer stiff resistance together with environment protection organizations.
Such facilities could also become a target of attack from North Korea and if there is such an attack it would cause serious radiation pollution, which could be tantamount of explosion of atomic bombs.
Furthermore, in order to produce nuclear weapons we have to carry out nuclear tests several times. We have a very limited land space where a total of 50 million people live. It is very questionable that we could carry out an underground nuclear bomb test in such a small land space.
There also are economic disadvantages that should be considered. If the ROK should withdraw from the NPT and IAEA, the action would be referred to the Security Council of the United Nations. It happened to North Korea in 1993 and in the 21st century it has become a common agreement among the member nations that any country leaving the NPT will be handled at the UN Security Council.
It is impossible to secretly develop nuclear weapons. If we are found red-handed as in the case of 2004 the trouble would be much more serious than that in that year. So, if we want to develop nuclear bombs, we should be ready to undergo various economic sanctions and suffer difficulties.
Offhand, the ROK would have to face an electric power shortage crisis. North Korea has plenty of uranium mines that the ROK does not have and therefore we have to import uranium from overseas. But there would be put ban on the country that tries to export uranium to us.
Without Uranium, the ROK would not be able to produce even the electric power. Nearly 40% of the total output of electric power generation in the ROK comes from nuclear power plants. We would also have to face a medical crisis. There would be no X ray or CT tests and treatment of cancer would be substantially affected as it is heavily dependent on radioactive isotope.
Economic sanctions on us from the international community would be enormous--affecting all segments of the Korean economy. As in the case of North Korea, Iran and Iraq, ban would be imposed on all things that could be used in making nuclear weapons. They would include bearings, time pieces, telephones, rubber, salt, cement, fertilizers, semiconductor, automobiles, ships, steel and other materials we import.
The ROK economy is 85% dependent on international trade. We must also pay attention to the international financial market and the credit evaluation organizations.
North Korea has uranium that we don’t have and Iran has oil that is non-existent in the ROK. The ROK is much more deeply imbedded in the international economy than North Korea or Iran. This means that the ROK would have to pay a much higher price in the event of developing nuclear weapons than North Korea or Iran.
Will North Korea be cowed and give up its nuclear weapons out of fear of our development of nuclear weapons?
Proponents of the development of nuclear weapons by the ROK assert that the ROK could cause North Korea to give up nuclear weapons through the use of ‘Balance of Terror.’ However, such a notion is unrealistic. Even the United States possessing 10,000 nuclear weapons has not been able to make the North give up its nuclear weapons with a threat of nuclear attack.
On the contrary, the North Korean regime used the nuclear threat of the US in justifying its own development of nuclear weapons.
In this situation, how would the ROK be able to scare the North to abandon its nuclear weapons with such a small number of nuclear bombs or such potential?
Such notion of the ROK would be very much like the assertion of North Korea that it could eliminate the US nuclear weapons from the South and thereby achieve denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
History tells us that there is no instance of abandonment of nuclear weapons because of the ‘Balance of Terror.’ In many instances such an effort resulted in the proliferation of nuclear weapons as it has been evidenced between the US and the former Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) during the Era of Cold War and in the relations between India and Pakistan.
The nuclear arms reduction negotiations between the US and the USSR made some headway thanks to the change of attitude on the part of President Ronald Reagan of the US and the ‘New Thought’ of President Mikhail Gorbachev of the USSR. The US and Russia have reduced their nuclear weapons, but still each of them has a total of nearly 10,000 nuclear weapons.
Some politicians, security experts and journalists in the ROK demand that the ROK should decide to develop nuclear weapons even at the risk of suffering sacrifices. This is because future of the ROK should not be like the present status of North Korea.
Regardless of difference in the attitude on the part of the countries concerned, it appears that an Era of ?alance of Terror?is coming in at a rapid pace.