The Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability pointed out that it is neither feasible nor desirable for South Korea to develop nuclear weapons on its own, or to redeploy any U.S. nuclear weapons to South Korea in an article published on July 28 (local time). Written by director Peter Hayes and Yonsei University Professor Moon Jung-in, the article titled “Should South Korea Go Nuclear” can also be found in the seventh edition of the East Asia Foundation Policy Debate.
The writers said in the article that South Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons or redeployment of American nuclear weapons in the country, both of which are very hollow and ineffective from a military point of view, would compromise the reliability of Washington’s retaliation against a preemptive nuclear attack by Pyongyang, along with the conventional arms-based nuclear deterrence provided by the U.S. military.
“The damage to ROK vital national interests from attempting to match the DPRK’s nuclear breakout would be far greater than putative gains, including loss of nuclear energy security; reduced access to trade, finance, and investment markets; irreparable damage to the ROK’s reputation for diplomatic prowess; potentially the rupture of the US alliance; the drawing of nuclear fire from other nuclear weapons states onto the ROK; and most important, the creation of an inherently unstable and permanent nuclear standoff with the DPRK described best as mutual probable destruction,” they wrote.
They added, “We argue that the nuclear weapons option, be it by domestic development or by re-deployment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons, is neither feasible nor desirable for South Korea. As we shall see, its feasibility is very low because of severe political, legal, and institutional obstacles, and above all, credibility problems. The military result also would be undesirable: two small states armed with nuclear weapons in an unstable ‘mutual probable destruction’ relationship. Each would have incentive to use first their nuclear weapons rather than lose them. South Korean nuclear weapons would induce a rigid and permanent (until it failed) psychological warfare even more ferocious than that seen over the last six decades. Far from reinforcing South Korea’s already overwhelming offensive military capabilities — including in almost every dimension where North Korea has developed offsetting ‘asymmetric’ capabilities - South Korean nuclear weapons would undermine deterrence based on conventional forces, and even reduce South Korea’s ability to use its conventional forces in response to a North Korean attack. The complications that independent South Korean nuclear weapons would cause for UN Command and Combined Forces Command are manifold. Put simply, no U.S. Commander-in-Chief is going to put American forces in harm’s way in Korea if South Korea wields nuclear weapons outside of U.S. political and military command-and-control.”