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Nork Nukes Push South Korea, Japan To Build Bombs Of Their Own


When confronted by a belligerent, nuclear-armed North Korea, America’s goal is not just to try to reduce the prospect of war on the Korean peninsula. Washington also must calm nerves across the region, especially in Tokyo and Seoul. If the US fails to get North Korea behaving properly, Japan and South Korea, among others, start to edge closer to nukes themselves.

As Toby Dalton and Yoon Ho Jin wrote last month:

Public opinion polling in South Korea over the last decade has consistently demonstrated majority support both for an indigenous nuclear weapons effort and the return of US tactical nuclear weapons, which Washington withdrew in 1991. In two recent polls conducted in the wake of the North Korean test, 64 percent and 66 percent of those surveyed agreed that South Korea should possess its own nuclear weapons.

If South Korea goes nuclear, and every Nork threat makes that more likely, Japan’s road to the bomb will get shorter. Thus, the Obama administration has to juggle efforts to pacify the region and avoid provoking the Norks even as it tries to reassure South Korea and Japan that Washington actually does have their back and that they can safely outsource their nuclear deterrence to us. And, needless to say, we have to do all this while keeping communication channels open with China.

This isn’t easy, and it’s getting harder over time.

[Nuclear image courtesy of Shutterstock]

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  • Stephen

    The need to reassure Japan and South Korea of our commitment to long-standing defense related treaty obligations in the wake of a well-publicized “pivot to Asia” speaks volumes. Getting harder over time? Indeed.

  • Lorenz Gude

    With the US withdrawing from its police role it becomes a less reliable backstop to countries like South Korea and Japan. Combine Obama’s postcolonial approach with the neo isolationism of the Pauls pere and fils and the paleo isolationism of Pat Buchanan and their are reasons across the political spectrum for these countries to get their own nukes. I have the half formed sense that if baby Kim were facing a nuclear South Korea and Japan he would have much less room to maneuver and hence have less ability to blackmail. I am well aware that the logical assumption is that the fewer nuclear countries the lower the risk, but i am not sure it is working out that way. I think we may be learning that when rogue states nuke up and try to use that power to bully it might be better if all their neighbors nuke up than depend on a distant nuclear power to control the lose cannons.

  • bannedforselfcensorship

    The key is the decision time of a leader to use their nukes. These countries are so close to each other that they would have minutes or even seconds to decide to launch a counter-strike against a perceived attack. That is very dangerous.

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