(National Sentinel) Korea: Tensions remained high on the Korean peninsula Monday, as the United States conducted another successful test of its THAAD missile defense system while South Korean officials openly considered their own nuclear arsenal to counter the North’s growing atomic threat.
As reported by McClatchy DC, South Korean lawmakers are wary of both Pyongyang and Washington — the former due to its growing nuclear capability along with the means to deliver such weapons, and Washington because they’re not sure the Trump administration would act to protect Seoul in case of attack.
“Trump’s ‘America-first’ policy has triggered this kind of public sentiment,” said Moon Chung In, a top national security adviser to South Korean President Moon Jae In. In addition, he said, Trump wavered during his campaign, even going so far as to suggest that South Korea and Japan develop their own nuclear arsenals.
While President Moon, a liberal who took office in May, does not support calls for South Korea to join the nuclear club, polls show that a majority of South Koreans surveyed favor the idea. Support bumps higher whenever North Korea conducts a nuclear or missile test and members of South Korea’s two major conservative parties are pressing Moon to at least explore the nuclear option of developing nuclear weapons.
“They want to strike a better balance of power between South and North Korea, and I also support that position,” said Yoon Young Seok, an elected member of South Korea’s National Assembly who belongs to the conservative Liberty Korea Party. He added that half of his party’s 107 lawmakers support South Korea arming itself with nuclear weapons.
South Korea was in the process of developing nuclear warheads in the 1970s but was persuaded by the U.S. to abandon the program in 1975, signing the international nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
U.S. analysts say North Korea could have the capability to miniaturize a nuclear warhead that, when placed atop a missile, could threaten the continental United States within a year or two. If that capability is affirmed, many South Koreans fear that U.S. leaders may grow reluctant to defend South Korea in a conventional war with North Korea, fearing it could lead to a full-blown nuclear exchange.
“If North Korea develops an ICBM and deploys nuclear weapons, will the United States deploy military forces at the right time in case of a contingency?” said Yoon. “If North Korea’s nuclear missiles can hit the mainland, will the United States protect South Korea during an attack? There are suspicions and concerns about these questions.”
“There are an increasing number of lawmakers who are studying armament, or what we call nuclear sovereignty,” added lawmaker Kim Jong Dae, a member of the Justice Party, which is generally aligned with President Moon’s Democratic Party.
Washington has been attempting to assuage those concerns. In February Defense Secretary James Mattis visited South Korea, telling Seoul’s leaders he wanted “to make clear the administration’s full commitment to the United Nations mission in defense of your democracy.”
South Korea has about 20 nuclear power plants so it possesses the ability and expertise to develop a nuclear arsenal if it so chooses. But it would then be in violation of its treaty with the U.S., and would also likely face the same kind of international sanctions as North Korea.
Plus, it would take a number of years for South Korea to develop a reliable arsenal, leaving it vulnerable. And North Korea might just decide to strike first.
If Japan also decided to pursue a nuclear development program, that would likely not sit well with China, which would ramp up its own program (though Beijing is already doing that).
As for THAAD, Reuters noted:
The test, conducted over the Pacific Ocean, comes amid heightened tensions with North Korea, which on Saturday said it had conducted its own successful test of a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that proved it has the capacity to strike American’s mainland.
The latest U.S. test of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system was planned well before North Korea’s latest missile launch, but it comes at a time of rising tension with the country since Pyongyang launched its first-ever test of an ICBM on July 4.
The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) said Sunday that the U.S. has now successfully intercepted test targets 15 times for its THAAD weapon system, though the latest test involved a medium-range missile, and not the long-range kind being tested out of North Korea.
Meanwhile: UN Ambassador Nikki Haley dismissed reports the U.S. was seeking a UN Security Council emergency meeting regarding North Korea, saying, “The time for talk is over.”
“There is no point in having an emergency session if it produces nothing of consequence,” Haley said, before noting that North Korea is already the target of a number of Security Council resolutions which, she said, “they violate with impunity.”
She added there was little point in securing a new resolution against North Korea, nothing that China would likely veto it anyway.
“An additional Security Council resolution that does not significantly increase the international pressure on North Korea is of no value,” she said. “In fact, it is worse than nothing, because it sends the message to the North Korean dictator that the international community is unwilling to seriously challenge him.”
For now, it’s all up to Beijing.
“China must decide whether it is finally willing to take this vital step. The time for talk is over,” she said.
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