South Korea Debates Bringing Tactical Nukes Back As North Korean Bombs Get Bigger

Defense Ministry/Yonhap/via REUTERS

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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter
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Some South Koreans are calling for the return of tactical nuclear weapons as North Korea advances its capabilities.

As the discussion heats up, the liberal South Korean government has made it clear its policy on tactical nuclear weapons remains unchanged. The conservatives, however, are increasingly demanding the South reconsider its position given recent North Korean developments.

“There is no change in the government’s policy principle of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” a spokesperson for the office of the president said Saturday, “and we have never reviewed a re-adoption of the tactical nukes.”

The Blue House (Cheong Wa Dae) declared that the redeployment of tactical nuclear weapons would make denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula a “lost cause,” according to Yonhap News Agency. Some observers feel that this ship has sailed, as North Korea recently conducted its sixth nuclear test, detonating a possible staged thermonuclear device.

Liberty Korea Party, previously known as the Saenuri Party until conservative former President Park Geun-hye was impeached and imprisoned for corruption, has been boycotting parliamentary sessions, but lawmakers are reportedly returning to push for a nuclear-armed South Korea, The Korea Herald introduced.

“It has become extremely clear that diplomacy or dialogue is not a solution. That means the only path we can take is through operating tactical nuclear weapons,” Liberty Korea Party’s Chairman Rep. Hong Joon-pyo recently told reporters.

“It is the measure that we should at least take to deter North Korea’s escalating threats,” another conservative representative, “It could help South Korea dispel worries about its security and show our military superiority against North Korea.”

According to a recent poll, roughly 60 percent of South Korean people agree the country should possess nuclear weapons. As older members of society tend to be more conservative, 80 percent of respondents above the age of 50 are in favor of nuclear rearmament in South Korea.

The U.S. and South Korea removed tactical nuclear weapons from the South in 1991 as part of a broader effort to maintain a denuclearized peninsula. North Korea recently made the developmental leap from fission atom bombs to a possible fission-fusion hydrogen bomb, suggesting that denuclearization may already be a lost cause. Former U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper argued as much last October.

A number of South Korean lawmakers called for the redeployment of nuclear weapons after North Korea’s fifth nuclear test last September. “We need to consider every option, including deploying tactical nuclear weapons, developing our own nukes, striking North Korea’s related facilities, and demolishing Kim Jong-un’s regime,” Rep. Lee Cheol-woo said last year.

Such calls were reflected on South Korean social media as well.

The ruling liberal party has largely been in favor of dialogue, diplomacy, and engagement, opposing military options. The South Korean government has been embracing new armament options, from missile defense to heavier warheads, in response to North Korea’s provocations. South Korean defense officials even mentioned the possibility of bringing tactical nuclear weapons back to the South, but only in the context of available options, not policy.

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