While North Korea fights to build a weapon threatening for the first time its Neighbors are arguing that they need their own nuclear arsenals.
The North's rapid advancing capabilities have blurred military calculations across the region, and doubts are growing that the United States will be able to keep atomic engineering in the bottle.
For the first time in recent memory, there is a daily dispute in South Korea and Japan – sometimes in public, more often in private – about the nuclear option, motivated worry that the United States will hesitate to defend the countries if it could cause a missile launched from the North in Los Angeles or Washington.
In South Korea, polls show that 60% of the population is in favor of building nuclear weapons. And nearly 70% want the United States to reintroduce tactical nuclear weapons for battlefield use, which were removed a quarter of a century ago.
There is very little public support for nuclear weapons in Japan. a nuclear attack, but many experts believe that it could quickly reverse if North Korea and South Korea had arsenals.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe campaigned against the threat of the North. nuclear material that could fuel an arsenal of 6,000 weapons. Last Sunday, he won an overwhelming majority in the parliamentary elections, fueling his hopes to revise the country's pacifist constitution.
This brutal calculation of how to respond to North Korea takes place in an area where many
Beyond South Korea and Japan, there is already talk in Australia , in Myanmar, Taiwan and Vietnam to know it's logical to stay without nuclear weapons if the others arm themselves – intensifying fears that North Korea will trigger a chain reaction in which one nation after the other feels threatened and builds the bomb.
In a recent interview, Henry A. Kissinger, one of the few strategists early in the Cold War, he had little doubt about the direction to take.
"If they continue to have nuclear weapons," he said of North Korea, "nuclear weapons must in the rest of Asia."
] "It can not be that North Korea is the only Korean country in the world that has nuclear weapons, without the South Koreans trying to match it, nor can it be that Japan will be able to sit there, "he added. "We are talking about nuclear proliferation."
Such fears have been raised before, in Asia and elsewhere, without materialization, and the global consensus against the proliferation of nuclear weapons is arguably stronger than ever.
But North Korea is testing the US nuclear umbrella – its commitment to defend its allies with nuclear weapons if necessary – in a way that no nation has been for decades . Similar fears of abandonment in the face of the growing arsenal of the Soviet Union helped Britain and France to adopt nuclear power in the 1950s.
President Trump , who leaves November 3 for a visit to Asia, intensifies these insecurities. the region. During his presidential campaign, he openly implied that Japan and South Korea would build nuclear weapons even though he argued that they should pay more to support US military bases in that country
"There will be a moment when I can not do it anymore," he told the New York Times in March 2016. The events, he insisted, were pushing the two nations to their own nuclear arsenals.
Trump has not raised this possibility in public since taking office but he has shaken the region by engaging in a bellicose rhetoric against Korea of the North and calling the talks a "waste of time."
In Seoul and Tokyo, many have already concluded that North Korea would retain its nuclear arsenal.
Able to build the bomb
Well before North Korea did not blow up its first nuclear device, many of its neighbors secretly explored. 19459007 Japan briefly considered building a "defensive" nuclear arsenal in the 1960s despite its pacifist constitution. South Korea pursued the bomb twice in the 1970s and 1980s, and twice dropped under US pressure. Even Taiwan conducted a secret nuclear program before the United States shut it down.
Today, there is no doubt that South Korea and Japan possess the equipment and expertise necessary to make a weapon
which prevents them from political sentiment and the risk of international sanctions. Both countries have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but it is unclear to what extent other countries would punish two of the world's largest economies for violating the agreement.
South Korea has 24 nuclear reactors and a large stock of spent fuel. According to an article published in 2015 by Charles D. Ferguson, president of the Federation of American Scientists, plutonium can be extracted from more than 4,300 bombs
Japan has already committed to never accumulate more nuclear fuel than it burns it. But it has never completed the necessary recycling and has 10 tons of plutonium stored in the country and 37 tons overseas.
"We remind the Japanese of their commitment," said Ernest J. Moniz, managing director of Threat Initiative and secretary of energy in the Obama administration, noting that it would years or even decades for Japan to consume its fissile materials because almost all of its nuclear power plants have remained offline since the Fukushima accident in 2011.
in particular, has opposed to Japan's reserve, warning that his traditional rival is so technologically advanced that he could use the hardware to quickly build a large arsenal.
Analysts often describe Japan as a "de facto" nuclear state, capable of building a weapon in a year or two. "Building a physical device is no longer as difficult," said Tatsujiro Suzuki, former vice president of Japan's Atomic Energy Commission.
Japan already has long-range missile technology, he added. develop more sophisticated communications and control systems.
South Korea may be even more advanced, with a fleet of advanced missiles carrying conventional warheads. In 2004, the government revealed that its scientists had tried to reprocess and enrich nuclear material without first informing the International Atomic Energy Agency as required by the treaty.
"If we decide to fend for ourselves together, we can build nuclear weapons in six months," said Suh Kune-yull, a professor of nuclear engineering at the Seoul National University. question is whether the President has the political will. "
In Seoul, an upward call for arms
President Moon Jae-in was firm in his opposition to arms He emphasized that building or reintroducing Americans to South Korea would make it even more difficult to persuade North Korea to get rid of its own.
Although Mr. Moon received high ratings since his election in May, his opinion is increasingly in the minority
Calls for nuclear weapons were once considered as gossip of the South Korean nationalist fringe. often complain that South Korea can not depend on the United States, its protector of seven decades.
The Liberty Korea opposition party called on the United States to reintroduce tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea in August. an intercontinental ballistic missile that appeared to be able to reach the continental United States
"If the UN Security Council can not contain North Korea with its sanctions, we will not be able to … will have no choice but to withdraw from the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Woon Yoo-chul, a party leader, declared in September 1945.
Given the failure of sanctions, threats and negotiations to stop North Korea, South Koreans are increasingly convinced that the North will never give up its nuclear weapons, but they also oppose the risk of war with a military solution.
Most believe that the Trump administration, despite its harsh speeches, will eventually acquiesce, perhaps contenting itself with a freeze that would allow the North to keep a small arsenal. fear that this means giving the North the ultimate tool of blackmail – and a way to keep the United States at bay.
"The reason North Korea is developing a hydrogen bomb and intercontinental ballistic missiles … war with the United States," said Cheong Seong-chang, an analyst at the Sejong Institute near from Seoul. "It's to prevent Americans from intervening in armed skirmishes or in a large-scale war on the Korean peninsula."
The closer the North gets to America, the more South Koreans are nervous. abandoned. Some have asked if Washington would risk the destruction of a US city by intervening, for example, if the North tries to occupy a border island, as did its soldiers.
For many in South Korea, the solution is "If we do not react by our own nuclear deterrent, our people will live as a nuclear hostage to North Korea," said Cheon Seong-whun, former Secretary to the Presidency of the Security Council.
With its own nuclear weapons, the South would gain power and could force North Korea back to the negotiating table, where both sides could reduce their arsenals by negotiation, say some hawks
But given the risks of becoming nuclear, others say that Seoul should seek to persuade Washington to redeploy tactical nuclear weapons.
"The redeployment of US tactical nuclear weapons would be the safest" to discourage North Korea, Defense Minister Song Young-moo said last month, but he added that it would be difficult to get Washington to accept that.
In Tokyo, the cautious debate
in Japan was weaker than in South Korea, unsurprisingly after 70 years of public education about the horrors of Japan. Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
But Japan has periodically considered developing nuclear weapons every decade since the 1960s.
In 2002, a senior adviser to Junichiro Koizumi, then prime minister, provoked a fury by suggesting that Japan could one day break with its policy of never building, possessing or authorizing nuclear weapons on its territory.
Shigeru Ishiba, a former defense minister who is considered a potential challenger for Prime Minister Abe, said Japan must discuss its nuclear policy against Korea's threat North.
M.. Abe has refrained from calling for a reassessment of the country's position on nuclear weapons. But he increased military spending and echoed Mr. Trump's hawkish stance against the North.
The Abe administration has already determined that nuclear weapons would not be banned by the Constitution if they were only maintained for self-defense.
The Japanese public is largely opposed to nuclear weapons with polls indicating less than one in ten nuclear weapons.
But Japan's relations with South Korea have long been strained, and if Seoul armed, these figures could change.
Some analysts say the discussion is aimed at getting other assurances from Washington. "We always do it when we get a little upset by the credibility of the extended US deterrence," said Narushige Michishita, a professor at the National Institute of Higher Political Studies in Tokyo.
Tobias Harris, Japan analyst Teneo Intelligence, a political risk advisory firm, said that Japan would reconsider its position on nuclear weapons if it suspected the United States of leaving them fall.
"We are in unexplored waters," he said. "It's hard to know exactly what the threshold will bring the Japanese public to switch."
An earlier version of this article misrepresented the amount of plutonium stored in Japan at the time of publication. # 39; abroad. It's 37 tons, not 37 million tons
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