Will Japan and South Korea go nuclear?
Even though the US is treaty-bound to protect them, Tokyo and Seoul may not like to fully depend on only the superpower in dealing with the threat North Korea's arsenals pose to them.
Are Japan and South Korea considering to build nuclear arsenals to counter the threat from North Korea? Knowledgeable sources say chances thereof cannot be ruled out.
South Korea and Japan are parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Post-war Japan has officially been committed to its pacifist policy. Apparently, Tokyo and Seoul have nothing to fear about their security. Washington is treaty bound to protect them. The United States has its troops in Japan and South Korea. It has installed the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD in South Korea.
The US conducts joint military drills with Japan and South Korea from time to time. In October this year, the US Marine Corps fighters joined Japan Air Self-Defense Force fighter aircraft and held a bilateral exercise over the Sea of Japan. The US Indo-Pacific Command and South Korean personnel conducted a bilateral exercise over the West Sea. Washington deployed its nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan near the Korean Peninsula. The carrier took part in a round of naval drills.
Also, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin spoke with his Japanese and Korean counterparts about the threats posed by North Korea and reaffirmed the US's commitment to the defence of Japan and South Korea.
However, given the growing unreliability of the US in contemporary international affairs, Tokyo and Seoul may not like to fully depend on only the superpower in dealing with the threat North Korea's arsenals pose to them. The two East Asian states seem to fear North Korea has been developing nuclear arsenals to stop "the Americans from intervening in armed skirmishes or full-scale war on the Korean Peninsula".
Pertinently, both Japan and South Korea may have been planning to develop their own nuclear deterrence mechanism for quite some time. In 2017, the National Security Archive at George Washington University and the Nuclear Proliferation International History Project revealed that then South Korean President Park Chung-hee had instructed his scientists to build nuclear bombs by 1977.
As early as in 1928, Japanese physicist Yoshio Nishina led the efforts of Japan to develop an atomic bomb during World War II. The US Army occupation forces dismantled his project in November 1945. Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Japan's Constitution did not prohibit the development of nuclear weapons.
(Jagdish N. Singh is a senior journalist based in New Delhi. He is also Senior Distinguished Fellow at the Gatestone Institute, New York)
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