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regular-article-logo Monday, 04 March 2024

In a first, South Korea says nukes a policy option

Yoon Suk Yeol stressed that South Korea would for now deal with North Korea’s nuclear threat by strengthening its alliance with the US

Choe Sang-Hun Seoul Published 13.01.23, 12:40 AM
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol. File Photo.

President Yoon Suk Yeol of South Korea said for the first time on Wednesday that if North Korea’s nuclear threat grows, South Korea would consider building nuclear weapons of its own or ask the US to redeploy them on the Korean Peninsula.

Speaking during a joint policy briefing by his defence and foreign ministries on Wednesday, Yoon was quick to add that building nuclear weapons was not yet an official policy. He stressed that South Korea would for now deal with North Korea’s nuclear threat by strengthening its alliance with the US.

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Such a policy includes finding ways to increase the reliability of Washington’s commitment to protecting its ally with all of its defence capabilities, including nuclear weapons.

Yoon’s comments marked the first time since the US withdrew all of its nuclear weapons from the South in 1991 that a South Korean president officially mentioned arming the country with nuclear weapons. Washington removed its nuclear weapons from South Korea as part of its global nuclear arms reduction efforts.

“It’s possible that the problem gets worse and our country will introduce tactical nuclear weapons or build them on our own,” said Yoon, according to a transcript of his comments released by his office. “If that’s the case, we can have our own nuclear weapons pretty quickly, given our scientific and technological capabilities.”

South Korea is a signatory of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, or NPT, which bans the country from seeking nuclear weapons. It also signed a joint declaration with North Korea in 1991 in which both Koreas agreed not to “test, manufacture, produce, receive, possess, store, deploy or use nuclear weapons”

But North Korea has reneged on the agreement by conducting six nuclear tests since 2006. Years of negotiations have failed to remove a single nuclear warhead in the North.

As North Korea vowed to expand its nuclear arsenal and threatened to use it against the South in recent months, voices have grown in South Korea — among analysts and within Yoon’s conservative ruling People Power Party — calling for Seoul to reconsider a nuclear option.

New York Times News Service

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