South Korea’s president has said that his country might build nuclear weapons in response to the continuing buildup of similar weapons in North Korea. This is the most explicit announcement so far from Seoul that it’s actively considering nuclear weapons, although the disclosure is also very likely calculated to pressure the United States into giving Seoul a role in nuclear war planning on the peninsula, and perhaps also to redeploy U.S. tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea, the last of these having being withdrawn in 1991.
Indeed, this is apparently the first time since 1991 that a South Korean president has actually brought up the idea of fielding homegrown nuclear weapons.
The potentially seismic change in South Korean defense policy was signaled by President Yoon Suk Yeol yesterday, during a joint policy briefing by the defense and foreign ministries. Pointing explicitly to North Korea’s rapid developments in nuclear warheads and delivery systems, Yoon noted:
“It’s possible that the problem gets worse, and our country will introduce tactical nuclear weapons or build them on our own. If that’s the case, we can have our own nuclear weapons pretty quickly, given our scientific and technological capabilities.”
Yoon also made it clear that Pyongyang’s expanding nuclear arsenal is a threat not only to the South but also to the United States and other allies. “The North Korean nuclear threat is not only a threat to South Korea anymore, or an issue of the United States merely protecting South Korea. It has become a so-called common interest for South Korea, Japan, and the United States,” he said.