SKorea: Won't Seek Own Nuke Deterrent 08/17 06:03
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- South Korea's president said Wednesday his
government has no plans to pursue its own nuclear deterrent and called instead
for more diplomacy in the face of growing North Korean nuclear weapons
capabilities, even as the North test-fired two suspected cruise missiles.
The launches were detected from North Korea's western coast hours before
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol used a news conference to urge Pyongyang
to return to diplomacy aimed at exchanging denuclearization steps for economic
South Korea's military, which didn't reveal the launches until after Yoon's
remarks, provided no immediate flight details about the North's weapons,
including how they moved or how far they traveled.
Yoon's office said his national security director, Kim Sung-han, discussed
the launch with other senior officials before Yoon addressed reporters and that
they reviewed the South's military readiness. Tensions could further rise as
the United States and South Korea kick off their biggest combined training in
years next week to counter the North Korean threat. The North describes such
drills as invasion rehearsals and has often responded to them with missile
tests or other provocations.
Yoon during the news conference maintained a reserved tone on Pyongyang,
saying Seoul doesn't desire political change in North Korea that's brought by
force and that the rivals should aim at building sustainable peace.
Yoon's comments followed his proposal on Monday for an "audacious" economic
assistance package to North Korea if it abandons its nuclear weapons program.
He has avoided harsh criticism of the North after it threatened "deadly"
retaliation last week over a COVID-19 outbreak it blames on the South.
Yoon's proposal for large-scale aid in food and healthcare and modernizing
power and port infrastructure resembled previous South Korean offers that were
rejected by North Korea, which is speeding its development of nuclear weapons
and ballistic missiles, seen by leader Kim Jong Un as his strongest guarantee
Still, Yoon expressed hope for "meaningful dialogue" with North Korea over
his plan and stressed that Seoul is willing to provide corresponding economic
rewards at each step of a phased denuclearization process if the North commits
to a genuine "roadmap" toward fully abandoning its weapons program.
"We are not telling them to 'denuclearize entirely first and then we will
provide,'" Yoon said. "What we are saying is that we will provide the things we
can in correspondence to their steps if they only show a firm determination
Inter-Korean ties have worsened amid a stalemate in larger nuclear
negotiations between North Korea and the U.S. that derailed in early 2019
because of disagreements over a relaxation of crippling U.S.-led sanctions on
the North in exchange for disarmament steps.
North Korea has ramped up its missile testing to a record pace in 2022,
launching more than 30 ballistic weapons so far, including its first
intercontinental ballistic missiles in nearly five years.
The heighted testing activity underscores North Korea's dual intent to
advance its arsenal and force the United States to accept the idea of the North
as a nuclear power so it can negotiate economic and security concessions from a
position of strength, experts say. Kim could up the ante soon as there are
indications that the North is preparing to conduct its first nuclear test since
September 2017, when it claimed to have developed a thermonuclear weapon to fit
on its ICBMs.
While Kim's ICBMs get much of the international attention, North Korea is
also expanding its range of nuclear-capable, short-range missiles that can
target South Korea. Kim has punctuated his weapons development with threats to
proactively use his nuclear weapons in conflicts against the South or the U.S.,
which experts say communicate an escalating nuclear doctrine that could
increase concerns for its neighbors.
Yoon has vowed to strengthen the South's defenses through its alliance with
the United States by resuming large-scale military training that was canceled
or downsized during the Trump years and boosting the South's missile defenses.
The Biden administration has also reaffirmed U.S. commitments to defending
South Korea and Japan, including "extended deterrence," referring to an
assurance to defend its allies with its full military capabilities, including
But some experts say it's becoming clear South Korea has no clear way to
counter the leverage North Korea has with its nukes, expressing concerns that
Washington might hesitate to defend its ally in the event of war when Kim's
ICBMs would pose a potential threat to mainland American cities.
Some South Koreans have called for the reintroduction of tactical U.S.
nuclear weapons that were removed from the South in the 1990s, or for Seoul to
pursue its own deterrent.
Yoon dismissed the possibility of the latter during the news conference,
saying that Seoul will stay committed to an international treaty aimed at
preventing the spread of nuclear weapons.
"I believe the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty) regime is a very important and
necessary premise for permanent world peace," Yoon said, expressing hope that
the U.S. deterrence strategy for its allies could evolve to counter the North's
Yoon's comments came after North Korea last week claimed a widely disputed
victory over COVID-19 but also blamed South Korea for the outbreak. North Korea
insists leaflets and other objects flown across the border by activists spread
the virus, an unscientific claim Seoul describes as "ridiculous."
North Korea has a history of dialing up pressure on South Korea when it
doesn't get what it wants from the United States, and there are concerns that
North Korea's threat portends a provocation, which could include a nuclear or
missile test or even border skirmishes. Some experts say North Korea may stir
up tensions around joint military exercises between the allies.