EAST ASIA REVIEW

Created: 9/5/1978

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South Korea; Public DiBcuaalon of the Nuclear Option

j Recent public discussion of the nuclearappears primarily dasigned to reassure thethat Seoul is examining all necessary stepsthe country's defenses. Additionally,be tailored to pressure the US to rethinkwithdrawing troops and weapons from Korea. no.jjreaaon to believe that it reflects acommitmentt;to acquire nuclear weaponsembark^on any new research and development inj'of such; a, goal. ,ji

The Statementeijiiiij j'

current1flurry of commentary regardingdates fromhen Foreign Ministerreportedly told the Korean press thatcoraider".weapons development if the US11'tactical. nuclear weapons from the: South. Pak'sfollowed by several reports that Koreanwere calling for an optn mind on theinhe Foreign! Ministera' National Assembly committee that althoughto the Non-Proliferationnoofjacquiring nuclearation could,circumstances, develop such weapons to.!

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while there is no evidence that Seoul deliberately

he liberal daily,Tonga llbothat" the National Unificationovernment research organ, had published severalI academic papers supporting acquisition of nuclear weapons. Three monthsaptong newj dispatch reported thatercentuniversity students polled hoped Korea would be armed with nuclear weapons. In August, the Tonga llbo and-tha independent Hanguk llbo editorialized that Seoul might have to consider nuclear weapons development.

the comments.by nonofficial sources,s certainly tolerant of the debate.

gov-In fact,

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early remarks by Foreign Minister Pak probably were perceived by the press and academic community asaboo of several years on open treatment of the nuclear weapons issue.

Import of, Statements

(ublic discussion of the nuclear option sinceas been clearly tied to.the|US troopissue'. ase in point, the first notable remark--that of foreign Minister Pak inas made at the time that former Undersecretary of Stats Philip Habib and former Chief of Staff George Brown went to Seoul to open negotiations on the terms of the withdrawal. Newspaper and academic commentary peeked following two pressby thestar innd another by the orient Press TaAugustthat tho US Congress wasinformed in7 that US tactical nuclear weapons would be[withdrawn from Korea along with the ground troops, il

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: Many officials in Seoul recognize the dangers that nuclear- proliferation would poso, but the majority of:the populace still reacts emotionally and superficially to1the issue. They view the us nuclear umbrella as an important deterrent to war on the peninsula and tend to assumeithat the|indigenous development of nuclear weapons mayibe[heeded to offset any potential weakening of the iusj security commitment. |

By allowing or even encouraging the nuclear weapons debate, the government may believe that it can convince the (Korean people that it is taking all necessaryto strengthen national defenses. Since the US troop;)withdrawal plan was announced, there hasonsistent pattern of increased governmentland (deliberately.exaggerated officialregard-ling conventional llweopons production: capabilities in South! Korea.! President Pak Chong-hui himself initiatedorale-boosting talk in. At the sameowever, the President in this period has denied Korean interest in nuclear weapons.

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| 1 there are undoubtedly sone members of the korean government who believe that the threat of "goingcan beever against the1 us. that motivation appears'to have figured partly in remarkuby some officials about the nuclear option four or five years ago. then, the us seventh division had just been withdrawn from korea, and officials in seoul ware already anticipating with heightened concern the possibility of the second division being withdrawn.

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, from the {outset, korean officials have hoped that current withdrawal plan would be scrapped or sig- ielayed. they may be reasoning thatwhen the pace of withdrawal has been slowed and seoul perceives that the plan is under fire in some quarters ofhe time is right to remind the'us of the possible unpleasant consequences of reduced support for the south.

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Iowever, no evidence that the current public discussion of the nuclear option reflects adebate about actually acquiring nuclear weapons. nor are there eigne of new research and development.[in direct {support ofoal. were seoul truly ito address the problem of developing nuclear weapons snd tolandestine research program. it would jbe^unlikely to try to advertise that factj

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