South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol warned that his country will acquire tactical nuclear weapons
if tension with North Korea escalates. Yoon issued the warning in response to an earlier statement by North Korea's supreme leader Kim Jong-un that his country will develop a new intercontinental ballistic missile due to the collaboration of Washington and Seoul to "isolate and stifle" Pyongyang.
"If the [North Korean nuclear] problem becomes more serious, the Republic of Korea may deploy tactical nuclear weapons or come to possess its own nuclear weapons," Yoon said during a government meeting on Jan. 11.
Yoon noted that "it won't take long, and with our science and technology, we could have [nuclear weapons] sooner as time passes." America withdrew all of its nuclear weapons from South Korea in 1991 as part of its global nuclear arms reduction efforts.
North Korea reportedly launched missile tests last year, enshrining the right to use nuclear weapons
into national law in September. The escalation apparently rattled Seoul, which is now seeking to strengthen its military alliance with the U.S. and deepen cooperation with Japan.
According to Yoon, the allies were discussing holding new joint military drills, including tabletop and computer simulations, as well as exercises involving the "delivery means for nuclear weapons." However, the White House repudiated that it was considering joint nuclear drills with South Korea.
Nevertheless, Kim's administration insisted that the multiple ballistic missiles that they launched back in November are a response to U.S.-South Korean exercises. (Related: North Korea's launch of multiple ballistic missiles threatens South Korea
Meanwhile, White House's national security spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. received information that North Korea is covertly supplying Russia with a "significant" number of artillery shells for its conflict in Ukraine. He also noted that North Korea was trying to hide the shipments by passing them through nations in the Middle East and North Africa.
Majority of South Koreans in favor of having nuclear weapons
Policymakers in Seoul rejected the option to build nuclear weaponry for decades. But things are different now.
"President Yoon's comment could turn out to be a watershed moment in the history of South Korea's national security," said Cheon Seong-whun, a former head of the Korea Institute for National Unification, a government-funded research think tank in Seoul. "It could shift its paradigm in how to deal with the North Korean nuclear threat."
A recent study also found that most South Koreans are actually in favor of going nuclear
. A February 2022 study by the Carnegie Endowment for Regional Peace showed that 71 percent of the South Korean public
favors having their own nuclear weapons, with 56 percent supporting the U.S. deploying nuclear weapons in their territory.
Additionally, the poll found that 67 percent preferred South Korea to have its own independent nuclear arsenal, with only nine percent supporting the deployment of U.S. nukes. In terms of opposing nuclear weapons, the study revealed that 40 percent oppose U.S. nuclear weapons deployment, while only 26 percent oppose having an independent nuclear arsenal.
Furthermore, the study showed that North Korea remains the primary driver for pro-nuclear South Korean sentiment, with 82 percent believing Pyongyang won't give up its nuclear weapons.
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