A nu­clear al­liance to counter North Ko­rea

South Ko­rea’s op­po­si­tion leader wants the US, South Ko­rea and Ja­pan to de­ploy atomic weapons to face the ris­ing Py­ongyang threat

Gulf News - - Opinion -

he United States, South Ko­rea and Ja­pan should es­tab­lish a “free­dom nu­clear al­liance,” with atomic weapons de­ployed in all three coun­tries to counter the ris­ing North Ko­rea threat, ac­cord­ing to the leader of South Ko­rea’s main op­po­si­tion party. Hong Joon-pyo, chair­man of the Lib­erty Ko­rea Party, said North Ko­rea is not go­ing to give up its nu­clear weapons any time soon and has ef­fec­tively formed a “so­cial­ist nu­clear al­liance” with China and Rus­sia. So the US should aban­don its pol­icy of pres­sure and en­gage­ment with the regime of Kim Jong-un and move to­ward a new buildup of nu­clear weapons in South Ko­rea, he said. If Wash­ing­ton won’t oblige, South Ko­rea and Ja­pan should de­velop their own nu­clear weapons to even the play­ing field, he told a group of Post jour­nal­ists dur­ing a visit to Wash­ing­ton re­cently.

For months, Hong and his party have been push­ing the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to re­turn tac­ti­cal nu­clear weapons to South Ko­rea, re­vers­ing the re­moval of such arms by Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush in 1991. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump in­sists the US will never ac­cept North Ko­rea as a nu­clear power, but it is al­ready a fact, Hong said. There­fore, Wash­ing­ton and its al­lies need to ramp up their own nu­clear pos­tures to get to a po­si­tion where North Ko­rea will bar­gain on re­duc­ing nukes on both sides of the North-South bor­der. China could use its lever­age to force North Ko­rea to give up its nukes, but Bei­jing has no in­ten­tion of do­ing that, Hong said. There­fore, the only rea­son­able con­clu­sion is that China sup­ports North Ko­rea’s nu­clear sta­tus. Hong’s Lib­erty Ko­rea Party is the lat­est it­er­a­tion of the con­ser­va­tive party that has ruled that coun­try for the bet­ter part of the past 50 years. Its lead­ers are highly crit­i­cal of the gov­ern­ment of Moon Jae-in as too soft on North Ko­rea.

Both Hong and Moon agree that a pre­ven­tive strike on North Ko­rea by the US, as Trump has threat­ened, would be a tragic mis­take. Hong said he was told the US mil­i­tary es­ti­mates that it would take about a week to de­stroy all North Korean ar­tillery aimed at the South — and that on each day of that week, there would be about 60,000 South Korean ca­su­al­ties. Hong also doesn’t be­lieve the US should try to shoot down a North Korean test mis­sile in flight, be­cause if it missed, “this would be a fa­tal blow to the cred­i­bil­ity of the mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the US.”

Hong met with CIA of­fi­cials who told him that North Ko­rea was just “a few months” from com­plet­ing its drive to gain the ca­pa­bil­ity to launch nu­clear weapons atop in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­siles and from sub­ma­rine-launched bal­lis­tic mis­siles, he said. US of­fi­cials tell me there is no in­ter­nal en­thu­si­asm yet for re­turn­ing tac­ti­cal nukes to South Ko­rea. The ex­ist­ing US nu­clear um­brella pro­tects South Ko­rea from out­side its bor­ders, and putting nukes on South Korean ter­ri­tory adds vul­ner­a­bil­ity with lit­tle added ef­fect; it and could fuel a re­gional arms race. The Trump team also won’t con­cede Hong’s larger point, al­though it’s true. The bal­ance of power on the Korean Penin­sula is shift­ing in North Ko­rea’s favour more and more ev­ery day. That weak­ens our ne­go­ti­at­ing po­si­tion and changes the strate­gic cal­cu­la­tions of al­lies and ad­ver­saries alike. Hon­estly ac­knowl­edg­ing that North Ko­rea is al­ready a nu­clear power is the first step to­ward craft­ing a more re­al­is­tic strat­egy. If nei­ther pres­sure nor en­gage­ment will work, the US and its al­lies need a Plan B, whether it’s the scheme the South Korean op­po­si­tion is propos­ing or not.

Josh Ro­gin is a colum­nist for the Global Opin­ions sec­tion of the Wash­ing­ton Post. He writes about for­eign pol­icy and na­tional se­cu­rity.

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