The purpose of this research paper is to evaluate the desirability and feasibility of the re-deployment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea as an additional effective option to deter a North Korean nuclear attack on South Korea. The necessity of discussing this option has increased since North Korea succeeded in developing ICBMs and a hydrogen bomb. Many South Koreans, including the largest opposition party, the Liberty Korea Party, demand re-deployment out of fear of a North Korean miscalculation. The U.S. Trump Administration has begun to review this option in the wake of North Korea’s hydrogen bomb test in September 2017.
We need to admit that the U.S. may need to make difficult decisions regarding the execution of its extended deterrence promise to South Korea, because North Korea is rapidly becoming capable of credibly threatening to attack cities in the U.S. mainland with hydrogen bomb missiles. In this sense, South Korea and the U.S. may need to seriously consider the re-deployment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons to prevent a possible North Korean attack. The re-deployment could strengthen the ROK-U.S. combined deterrence posture, correct the nuclear imbalance with North Korea, expedite de-nuclearization negotiations with North Korea, and dissuade South Koreans from making their own nuclear weapons. Although there are a few risks surrounding deployment, the rapid strengthening of North Korean nuclear threat may not allow South Korea and the U.S. to worry about them.
Considering the potential for anti-U.S. movements in South Korea and South Korea’s proximity to North Korea, we may need to expand the scope of nuclear sharing from between South Korea and the U.S. to include Japan. It would be easier and safer for the U.S. to deploy its nuclear weapons to Japan than South Korea. South Korea could enjoy similar deterrent effects if nuclear weapons were deployed to Japan. South Korea, the U.S. and Japan could strengthen their NCND policy on the locations of the nuclear weapons to maximize the deterrent effect and minimize opposition.
Quotes from the Paper
“Despite intensive and continuous international diplomatic efforts to persuade North Korea to surrender its nuclear weapons, the prospect of denuclearizing North Korea is growing dimmer. Now is the time for South Korea and the international community to discuss more effective options for protecting the Korean Peninsula, Northeast Asia, the United States (U.S.), and the world as a whole from a North Korean nuclear attack.”
“A comparison of the seriousness of the North Korean nuclear threat to South Korean preparedness reveals that South Korea’s ability to protect its populace is very limited. The country depends on U.S. extended deterrence, but there is no guarantee that this extended deterrence will be executed in the event of a real attack.”
“The gravity of the North Korean nuclear threat should compel South Korea to employ all possible options regardless of the downsides. Among these options, the re-deployment of U.S. tactical weapons to South Korea stands out.”
“South Korea in particular faces a serious security threat from North Korea’s nuclear weapons. It does not have any reliable deterrence or defense preparedness for a nuclear war except for the U.S. extended deterrence…South Korea should come up with more effective measures than now to ensure the reliability of U.S. extended deterrence. In this sense, South Korea may need to ask the U.S. to re-deploy tactical nuclear weapons, and the U.S. should seriously consider the request.”
Doctor Park Hwee-rhak is Dean of the Graduate School of Politics and Leadership at Kookmin University, Seoul and has been teaching on Nuclear Strategy, Contemporary Military Issues and Defense Reform. He has written several articles on the North Korean nuclear and missile threat, defense reform, contemporary war-fighting concepts, and other military issues.
He graduated from the South Korea Military Academy in 1978 and retired as Colonel in 2009. He earned his Masters of International Relations at Yonsei University in 1983, and acquired a second Master’s Degree at the U.S. National War College in 1999. He achieved a PhD in Political Science at Kyunggi University, Seoul, South Korea, in 2008.
He has published several professional books in Korean including The North Korean Nuclear Threat and National Security (2016); Conditions for South Korean Defense in the Era of the North Korean Nuclear Threat (2014); South Korean Defense Posture against the North Korean Nuclear Threat (2013); Peace and National Defense (2012), and others.
He has also written more than eighty articles during the last ten years in registered journals to the National Research Foundation of Korea on nuclear issues and military affairs including the following English articles: “South Korean Preparedness for the North Korean Nuclear Threat: A Few Steps Behind,” The Korean Journal of Security Affairs, Vol . 29, No. 2 (2017); “The Expectation and Reality Gap in South Korea’s Relations with China,” Asian International Studies Review, Vol. 18, No. 1 (2017); “An Analysis and Lessons on South Korea’s Attempt and Postponement of the OPCON Transition from the ROK-U.S. Combined Forces Command,” The Korean Journal of Security Affairs, Vol . 27. No.3 (2015); “South Korea’s Defense Posture against the North Korean Nuclear Threat: Dangerous Reluctance,” International Studies Review, Vol. 16, No. 1 (June 2015); “Time to Balance Deterrence, Offense, and Defense? Rethinking South Korea's Strategy against the North Korean Nuclear Threat,” The Korean Journal of Defense Analysis, Vol. 24, No. 4 (December 2012), etc.