Should South Korea get nukes to thwart the North? This former US Pacific fleet commander thinks so

North Korea lies just over this narrow river

North Korea in recent weeks said it has an ICBM — or long range missile — that can be tested at any time, raising fears that the rogue nation could hit the U.S. with a nuclear attack and decimate cities like Washington, New York and Los Angeles. 

Retired four-star admiral and former U.S. Pacific fleet commander James Lyons says the U.S. and South Korea need to discuss the nuclear option, adding that the U.S. should re-install tactical nukes on vessels deployed in the area, which would be capable of striking North Korea.

U.S. President Donald Trump has in the past suggested that both South Korea and Japan arm themselves with their own nukes, in a bid to make the North think twice before making threats. But the New York billionaire was met with a flurry of what critics called hysterical media reports — in both the United States and South Korea — predicting a gloom-and-doom nuclear arms race.

But Lyons believes South Korea should consider going nuclear.

We should discuss with South Korea the re-introduction of nuclear weapons, if North Korea does not cease its nuclear activity,” he told Borderless News Online.

Indeed, calls have been growing louder in South Korea to re-introduce Seoul’s nuclear program, which it abandoned in the 1970s. Some South Korean politicians have also called for a return of U.S. nukes in Korean territory, which were deployed in South Korea but removed in the early 1990s.

The administration of South Korean President Park Geun-hye has not gotten on board with this sentiment. And while polls conducted just after the North’s nuclear tests show public support for building a South Korean nuke program, others note that such sentiment dies down when tensions subside. 

Still, Park is in the middle of being impeached on charges of corruption, and it remains an open question whether the next administration will consider a nuclear program.

Indeed, Seoul not only has the technology to build nukes, but also possesses the engineering and electronics know-how to construct a delivery system.  Some experts have argued that while the North may be able to build a nuclear weapon, delivering it – especially to the far away United States – is not as easy. That requires a whole other set of skills.  Still, others say that the North may already have developed those capabilities.

Lyons added that “all sanctions that did apply to Iran should be applied to North Korea,” noting the recently lifted sanctions that had crippled Iran’s economy and caused its currency to plummet. Sanctions levied on North Korea should include denied access to international financial institutions; individual travel restrictions; and the denial of visa applications for top government officials, he said.

“Further, we should re-install tactical nuclear weapons aboard our deployed
naval forces to raise the deterrence level,” he said.

Lyons also argued the White House should make clear that the new administration would pose no objections if Japan decided to go nuclear.

“We should let North Korea know that we are prepared not to voice any objections to a Japanese nuclear program,” he said.

But it remains unknown whether Japan would be on board with that, as public sentiment against nuclear weapons is stark in the only nation in history that has ever been on the receiving end of nuclear attack. Pacifism – especially when it comes to nuclear weapons – has been deeply ingrained in Japanese culture since the end of WWII. That remains the case even in the face of a North Korean threat.

Finally, if North Korea test fires an ICBM on a trajectory that is towards the U.S., it should be destroyed by using a combination of current anti-ballistic missile systems, such as the U.S. Navy’s Aegis SM-6 capability, the admiral said.

Aside from Lyons’s opinions, one might speculate that having South Korean nukes just 30 minutes away from the North could send a strong message that the US – and South Korea – are taking the North Korean nuclear threat seriously. Psychologically it means more than having nukes across an ocean. The nukes could hit North Korea much faster than from the U.S., as those would have to fly over an ocean before hitting North Korea. By that time Kim and his inner circle could escape to a friendly country.

At the same time, the boy King Kim Jong Un has proven to be unpredictable and brutal, having killed his own uncle. There’s no telling how he might react if nukes are deployed just miles away in South Korea.

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