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Debate in South Korea over defense strategy

flag-S-KoreaSeoul Questions Own Defense Strategy as North Korea Nuclear Threat Grows  South Korean defense spending is up and a debate is growing over the nuclear option. WSJ,  By ALASTAIR GALE Oct. 13, 2016 SEOULNorth Korea’s nuclear push is triggering a military buildup here and adding fuel to a hot debate over South Korea’s defense strategy—including whether the country should have its own nuclear option.

A few conservative politicians and a small majority in opinion polls have for years supported South Korea getting access to nuclear weapons. Lately, some prominent new voices have joined them, including Kim Jin-pyo, a four-term lawmaker from the main, left-of-center opposition party, who said Seoul needed a “balance of terror” to match North Korea’s threat.

Mr. Kim said nuclear weapons in South Korea would also pressure China and Russia to deal with North Korea more seriously……..

The government, however, strongly resists a nuclear option, citing the U.S. umbrella and the negative diplomatic and economic repercussions of opting out of the international nonproliferation regimen. Asked about the experts’ report, the president’s spokesman said: “Our government’s position remains unchanged and we are committed to a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.”

Under a separate bilateral treaty renewed last year, South Korea is barred from creating nuclear material for weapons in return for U.S. fuel for its atomic-power reactors.

American officials say there has been no discussion about redeploying nuclear weapons here. One senior South Korean government official said privately that calls for Seoul to deploy them were “bullshit.”

But as North Korea advances toward a more-threatening arsenal, including nuclear-tipped missiles that could be fired from submarines, discussion in the South over how to respond has intensified. Talk from military officials of pre-emptive strikes if a nuclear attack appears imminent has become frequent.

Uncertainty over Pyongyang’s progress has amplified fears. “The South Koreans are so nervous because they don’t know what they’re looking at,” said Robert Kelly, a professor of political science at Pusan National University in South Korea………

Against the rising hawkish voices, some South Korean politicians question the effectiveness of nuclear weapons or shows of force in deterring Mr. Kim.

Joo Seung-young, a member of a minor opposition party, said this month that U.S. bomber flights “might just heighten nuclear tension” on the Korean Peninsula……. —Min Sun Lee contributed to this article.

Write to Alastair Gale at alastair.gale@wsj.com       http://www.wsj.com/articles/seoul-questions-own-defense-strategy-as-north-korea-nuclear-threat-grows-1476350823

October 15, 2016 - Posted by | South Korea, weapons and war

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