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SEOUL (AP) -- South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said for the first time on Wednesday that if the nuclear threat from North Korea increased, South Korea would either consider building its own nuclear weapons or ask the United States to move them to the Korean peninsula . .
At a joint policy briefing by his Defense and State Departments on Wednesday, Yoon was quick to add that building nuclear weapons is not yet official policy. He stressed that for now, South Korea will counter North Korea's nuclear threat by strengthening its alliance with the United States.
Part of such a policy is finding ways to increase the reliability of Washington's commitment to protecting its ally with all its defensive capabilities, including nuclear weapons.
Yoon's comments marked the first time since the United States withdrew all its nuclear weapons from the South in 1991 that a South Korean president officially mentioned arming the country with nuclear weapons. Washington has withdrawn its nuclear weapons from South Korea as part of its global effort to reduce nuclear weapons.
"It is possible that the problem will get worse and our country will either adopt tactical nuclear weapons or build them ourselves," Yoon said, according to a transcript of his statements released by his office. "If that's the case, given our scientific and technological capabilities, we could very quickly have our own nuclear weapons."
South Korea is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which prohibits the country from pursuing 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, stockpile, deploy, or use nuclear weapons."
But North Korea has violated the deal by conducting six nuclear tests since 2006. Years of negotiations have failed to remove a single nuclear warhead from the North. (US and South Korean officials say North Korea could conduct another nuclear test, its seventh, at any time.)
like North Koreapromised to expand its nuclear arsenal and threatened to use itIn recent months, anti-South voices have been rising in South Korea, among analysts, and within Yoon's conservative People's Power Party, urging Seoul to reconsider a nuclear option.
Yoon-san's comments this week are likely to fuel such discussions. Opinion polls in recent years have shown that most South Koreanssupportsthe deployment of US nuclear weapons in the South or the building of the country's own arsenal.
North Korean missile tests
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An increase in activity.North Korea has held out for the past few monthsvarious rocket tests, indicating an increasingly defiant attitude towards countries that resistits growing military arsenal. Here's what you should know:
The UN Resolution.Tensions on the Korean Peninsula began to rise in 2017 when North Korea test-launched three ICBMs and conducted a nuclear test. The United NationsVATsanctionsand Pyongyang suspended testing of nuclear and long-range missiles for a time.
failed diplomacy.Ex-President Donald Trumpmet with Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader,3 timesbetween 2018 and2019, hoping to reach an agreement on North Korea's nuclear and missile programs.After the negotiations are completed, North Korea has resumed missile testing.
A rise.North Korea starteda new round of testingin September 2021 after a six-month break. completed latermany exams, including the dismissal of severalmiddle areajintercontinental ballistic missile chain, which violated the UN resolutions of 2017.
New provocations.Mr. Kim haslaunched a record number of rocketsjfocuses on developing new onesin 2022. That's what the North Korean leader saida “neo-cold war” is emergingand committedExpand your country's nuclear capabilitiesagainst South Korea "exponentially".
Seoul policymakers have dismissed the option for decades, arguing that the United States' so-called nuclear safeguards would protect the country from North Korea.
"President Yoon's statement could become a turning point in the history of South Korea's national security," said Cheon Seong-whun, former head of the Korean Institute of National Unification, a government-funded think tank in Seoul. "It could change their paradigm in dealing with North Korea's nuclear threat."
Calls for nuclear weapons have surfaced in South Korea for decades but have never caught on beyond casual pundits and right-wing politicians.
Under its former military dictator Park Chung-hee, South Korea launched a secret nuclear weapons program in the 1970s as the United States began reducing its military presence in the south, leaving the populace feeling vulnerable to attackers. Washington pushed him out of the program and promised to keep the ally under its nuclear umbrella.
As a symbol of the alliance, Washington still maintains 28,500 American troops in South Korea. But in recent months North Korea has continued to test missiles, some designed to deliver nuclear warheads to the south. Many South Koreans questioned whether the United States would stop North Korea from attacking their country, particularly at the risk of making American cities and military bases in the Asia-Pacific region more vulnerable to nuclear attacks. Washington's repeated promises to protect its ally -- with its own nuclear weapons if necessary -- have not allayed that fear.
In its Nuclear Posture Review 2022, a document outlining Washington's nuclear policy for the next five to 10 years, the Pentagon itself noted the "deterrence dilemmas" imposed on the United States by the North. "A crisis or conflict on the Korean peninsula could involve multiple actors with nuclear weapons, increasing the risk of a broader conflict," he said.
"If South Korea has nuclear weapons, the United States need not question whether it will use its own nuclear weapons to defend its ally, and the alliance will never be tested," Cheong Seong said. -chang, senior analyst at the Sejong Institute in South Korea. "If South Korea has nuclear weapons, America will actually be safer."
By declaring its intention to arm itself with nuclear weapons, South Korea could force North Korea to reconsider its own nuclear weapons program and potentially prompt China to pressure Pyongyang to reverse its program, Cheong said. China has long feared a regional nuclear arms race in East Asia.
South Korea would have to leave the nuclear non-proliferation treaty to build its own arsenal. Analysts said withdrawing from the NPT is too risky for the South as it could trigger international sanctions.
Some lawmakers and analysts linked to Yoon's party, like Cheon, want the United States to reintroduce American nuclear weapons to the South and forge a nuclear weapons-sharing deal with Seoul, similar to one that would enable a NATO airlift. American nuclear weapons at war.
The US embassy initially did not comment on Yoon's statement. Washington's official policy is to rid the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons, amid fears that building nuclear weapons in Seoul could spark a regional arms race and eliminate any hope of ridding North Korea of its nuclear weapons.
Yoon himself confirmed on Thursday that his country still feels committed to the NPT, at least for the time being. He said Wednesday, and his defense ministry reiterated Thursday, that the "most realistic means" of countering the North Korean threat is joint deterrence with the United States.
His administration has announced that allies will conduct drills starting next month to test their combined capabilities in dealing with a North Korean nuclear strike, reaffirming Washington's commitment to its ally. Mr. Yoon also said his army will promote its own program of "mass punishment and retaliation" and arm itself with more powerful missiles and other conventional weapons to threatenthe northern leadership.
Tensions in Korea have risen in recent weeks as the Yoon government has responded to the North's provocations with its own escalating measures, such as dispatching fighter jets in responseDrones do norte.
"We must smash the North's desire to provoke," he said on Wednesday.
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