South Korean officials announced last month that the United States would begin to routinely deploy strategic assets on the Korean Peninsula to help deter North Korea’s nuclear capabilities. The South Korean demand for tangible signals of America’s defense commitment is unlikely to stop there, and prominent South Korean politicians are publicly pushing for the United States to return nuclear weapons to the peninsula. Some American politicians, like Sen. John McCain, have made similar suggestions.
If there were real military or political benefits to redeploying nuclear weapons in South Korea, this idea would be worth a serious review, but redeploying them today makes no sense, and indeed could exacerbate the current crisis over North Korea’s nuclear threats.
Here are seven reasons why the United States should not seek to deploy nuclear weapons in South Korea.
1. Our military does not need them. The United States can hit any target in North Korea from within the United States or elsewhere with precision conventional weapons. If a conflict escalates and requires the use of nuclear weapons, these can be delivered from a variety of existing, secure platforms far from North Korea — and both North and South Korea know it. Stationing nuclear weapons in South Korea would not deter North Korea from periodic tactical provocations, but could increase pressure on North Korea to use nuclear weapons first in a crisis. They would also make tempting targets for North Korean missiles, which can hit all of South Korea.