South Korea Talk of Becoming a Nuclear Horn: Daniel 7

South Koreans walk past replicas of missiles at the Korean War Memorial.

Talk of a Nuclear Deterrent in South Korea

North Korea’s resumed activity at Yongbyon has reawakened calls for Seoul to go nuclear.

September 9, 2021, 11:50 AM

SEOUL—Recent resumption of activity at North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear complex, which is suspected of producing the plutonium needed for the country’s nuclear weapons, has fueled existing convictions among some conservative South Korean politicians that Pyongyang will never agree to give up its nukes so Seoul needs a nuclear deterrent of its own.

The issue has stormed into the early days of the upcoming presidential election, with primary candidates openly pushing for South Korea to host nuclear weapons. Yoo Seong-min, a former lawmaker and primary candidate for the People Power Party, said he would “persuade the U.S. government to sign a nuclear-sharing agreement” with Seoul if he became president. Such an agreement would again allow the deployment of tactical and nonstrategic nuclear weapons on South Korean soil for the first time since the end of the Cold War. Another conservative contender, Hong Joon-pyo, has also argued that a nuclear-sharing agreement is needed lest South Korea end up “slaves to North Korea’s nuclear weapons.”

For some in South Korea, it’s not just about hosting U.S. weapons but also about developing their own. Lee Jong-kul, a representative from the Liberal Party, has saidSouth Korea should “choose tactical nuclear weapons as the last negotiating card” against North Korea. In 2017, a conservative group, the Korean Patriotic Citizens’ Union, organized protests that included chants like “South Korea should immediately begin to arm itself with nuclear weapons.” Nuclear boosterism has grown so much that the leading primary candidate for the Liberal Party, Lee Jae-myung, decried it as “dangerous populism.”

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