South Korea has found itself at a crossroads yet again. Those threatening its economy this time include Kim Jong-un’s sixth nuclear test, downward pressure on the country’s credit rating resulting from the provocation, debates over nuclear armament, China’s economic retaliation that has followed THAAD deployment in the South, and negotiations for revising the KORUS FTA.
These days, more and more people in the American political community as well as the Donald Trump administration are advocating the redeployment of tactical nuclear weapons in the South. U.S. Senate Armed Forces Committee Chairman John McCain, who had opposed deployment of tactical nuclear weapon in South Korea, said in his recent interview with CNN on September 10 that the South Korean National Defense Minister made the same request and it should be discussed in depth. NBC also reported on September 8 that the Donald Trump administration is considering various military options such as South Korea’s and Japan’s nuclear armament, tactical nuclear weapon redeployment and cyber attacks and this is to send more message to China than to North Korea.
What is worrisome is the seeming lack of determinedness of the Moon Jae-in government. The only option remaining for it is the balance of terror to deter further provocations by the North and pressure on the Chinese government for more sanctions on the North.
The THAAD deployment issue has torn South Korea apart. Its government mishandled the environmental impact assessment, letting China escalate its economic retaliation and letting the United States doubt the soundness of its alliance with the South. In short, the Moon’s administration has failed in handling the deployment issues in every respect. Nonetheless, the ruling party is still insisting that it is only temporary.
The South Korean government and the ruling party would be well advised to be highly forward-looking in discussing the redeployment of tactical nuclear weapons so that the same situation does not repeat itself. According to a recent survey, 68% of South Koreans are in favor of the weapons. Differently from the original expectation, the United Nations Security Council resolution for tough sanctions on yesterday (Sept. 11, local time), such as textile export ban and limited crude oil export to the North, turned out to be loose out of regard for China and Russia, which consequently more requires Seoul to show its firmer determinedness on the deployment.
The government should become determined and aggressive in economy matters, too. China’s economic retaliation has long been preposterous and against the practices. The government need to work with the international community to stop China from ignoring international rules and established practices.
The Moon Jae-in administration is still saying that it is “not reviewing” the deployment of strategic nuclear weapons. However, now is the time for Seoul to further strengthen its ties with Washington by seeking for the best way for tactical nuclear weapon redeployment and nuclear armament and for President Moon Jae-in to stop reiterating dialogue with Pyongyang. This also will contribute to the negotiations for KORUS FTA revision in the end, too.