SEOUL (THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The United States does not support the idea of South Korea rearming with nuclear weapons to match North Korea, a high-ranking US military official has said.
It is the first time that a US military official has publicly voiced opposition to recent hawkish talk in South Korea that the country should either build atomic bombs of its own to ensure a "balance of terror" with the increasingly belligerent North, or bring back US tactical nukes once stationed here.
"The US does not support the reintroduction of tactical nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula, although we certainly understand those feelings especially in light of the recent nuclear test (by the North)," said Lt. Gen. Thomas W. Bergeson, deputy commander of USFK and commander of the 7th Air Force, at a forum in Seoul on Thursday (Sept 7).
The US provides strategic security guarantees - a "nuclear umbrella" - for its allies in the region and "that is probably sufficient," he said while attending a session of the Seoul Defense Dialogue.
South Korea, which fought a war with the North in 1950s that ended in a ceasefire, gave up nuclear weapons in the 1970s and settled with the US-provided nuclear umbrella. The country has been nuclear-free since 1991, after the George H. W. Bush administration withdrew atomic bombs stationed here.
The call for nuclear rearmament has intensified after the North conducted what it claimed to be a missile-ready hydrogen bomb last Sunday. Although many question the credibility of Pyongyang's claim, it appears clear that the regime's nuclear program is advancing much faster than expected.
Still, security experts say the US will not allow a nuclear-armed South Korea, as an atomic arms race would only further complicate the security situation in north-east Asia.
The main opposition Liberty Korea Party is serious about the idea, having adopted a campaign for the reintroduction of US tactical nukes in the country. It plans to send a delegation to Washington to drum up support for the plan.
Recently, Seoul's Defence Minister Song Young Moo revealed that he had brought up the issue during his talk with his US counterpart Jim Mattis at the Pentagon last week. The ministry later explained that it was mentioned as one of several ways to respond to the North Korean nuclear threat, but was not a proposal to bring nukes back to South Korea.
The presidential office Cheong Wa Dae has also dismissed the possibility.
"The government respects the global non-proliferation regime and continues to align all its policy within that framework," it said.