Skip to main content

Under threat, South Koreans mull nuclear weapons

By K.J. Kwon, CNN
March 19, 2013 -- Updated 0023 GMT (0823 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Under heated rhetoric from North Korea, some South Koreans call for nuclear weapons
  • South Korea does not have nuclear arms because of the 'nuclear umbrella' provided by U.S.
  • Recent poll: 66% of South Koreans support developing nuclear weapons program

Seoul, South Korea (CNN) -- The barrage of threats from North Korea has sparked talk from within South Korea of the need to develop its own nuclear weapons.

A recent poll shows that two-thirds of South Korean citizens surveyed support the idea, especially in the wake of North Korea's third nuclear test in February.

"We, the Korean people, have been duped by North Korea for the last 20 to 30 years and it is now time for South Koreans to face the reality and do something that we need to do," said Chung Mong-joon, a lawmaker in the governing Saenuri (New Frontier) Party and a former presidential conservative candiate. "The nuclear deterrence can be the only answer. We have to have nuclear capability."

The talk of South Korea arming with its own nuclear weapon used to be taboo in the country-- and there's no apparent official government move to do so. But the tensions between the two Korean nations have amplified over the weeks, becoming reminiscent of the Cold War.

U.S. lawmaker questions North Korean leader's 'stability'

Congressmen on global threats
Fareed's Take: Understanding N. Korea
U.S. to boost missile defense
Kim Jong Un: Break enemies' waists

Earlier this month, South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok responded to North Korea's threat to attack the South with a pre-emptive nuclear strike saying: "If North Korea is to attack the South with its nuclear weapons... Kim Jong Un's regime will cease to exist on the face of Earth."

After North Korea conducted its third nuclear test last month, the South unveiled a cruise missile, which it claims to be so precise that it can target "a specific window of a North Korean military commander's office."

Some commentators in South Korean media have been calling for a nuclear weapons option, claiming that the country has the technology and economy to develop them in a short period of time. And public opinion is following in line.

According to a February poll conducted by South Korea's private think tank, Asan Institute, 66% of South Koreans said they support developing a nuclear weapons program. The poll suggests that just under half of South Koreans in 2012 believed that the United States would provide South Korea with what's known as the "nuclear umbrella" in the case of a North Korean nuclear attack, indicating a 7% decrease from 2011.

Under the nuclear umbrella, the U.S. is to provide South Korea with defensive means to ensure deterrence against a nuclear threat.

In recent times, South Korea has been known for little if no reaction on North Korea's provocations and threats. Its attitude changed after the 2010 attack on its battleship That killed more than 40 sailors -- North Korea was blamed. That same year, there was also outrage after the North shelled Yeonpyeong Island. South Korea returned fire and also began responding to North Korea with its own strong words.

North Korea: Nuclear program not a bargaining chip

But not all South Koreans are rallying behind the cause of developing South Korean nuclear weapons.

If South Korea makes nuclear weapons, nonproliferation in the region would soon fall apart, Han Yong-sup, professor at the Korea National Defense University said. "Japan and Taiwan could follow the suit. Then, a domino effect of nuclear proliferation will result," he said.

To assuage anxieties in South Korea, "Washington needs to make an official statement in order to make U.S. extended deterrence more credible," Han added.

Experts say that China, also a powerful economic partner with South Korea, will never agree with the idea of nuclear armed South Korea, because "it will affect Sino-U.S. ties," said Yang Zhaohui, a professor of international relations at Peking University.

North Korean video shows imagined attack on Washington

But so far, China hasn't been pleased with Kim's nuclear ambitions, although it is North Korea's closest ally and economic supporter. China recently signed on to tougher U.N. sanctions against the north, targeting that country's nuclear program.

"China appears to be getting impatient on North Korea," Yang said. "The Chinese government does not appear to be controlling its public opinion on North Korea anymore. North Korea is not popular here."

Recently, criticism of North Korea have become rampant on Sina Weibo, the popular Chinese microblog.

Kim Jong Un has even earned a nickname "Jin Sanpang" which means "Fat Kim the Third," and has become a popular subject of satire among Chinese netizens.

An editorial printed in China's state-run newspaper Global Times in January warned North Korea that if it conducted a nuclear test it would not hesitate to reduce assistance to North Korea.

"China's attitude towards North Korea appears to be changing," Yan said. "But China's priority is peace and stability in the region. It wants to maintain good relationship with both South and North Korea."

U.S. to beef up missile defense against North Korea, Iran

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
April 2, 2014 -- Updated 1127 GMT (1927 HKT)
Experts warn that under Kim Jong Un's rule, Pyongyang has shown an even greater willingness to raise the stakes than before.
March 18, 2014 -- Updated 1314 GMT (2114 HKT)
China and North Korea criticize a U.N. report that found crimes against humanity committed in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
March 17, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
Megumi Yokota was only 13 when she was abducted by a North Korean agent in the 1970s. What happened after that?
March 12, 2014 -- Updated 0430 GMT (1230 HKT)
Report: North Korea uses multiple techniques to defy sanctions, and shows no signs of abandoning its nuclear missile programs.
February 21, 2014 -- Updated 0817 GMT (1617 HKT)
Families torn apart for more than 60 years -- separated by the Korean War -- began to reunite at a mountain resort in North Korea Thursday.
February 18, 2014 -- Updated 1150 GMT (1950 HKT)
A stunning catalog of torture and the widespread abuse of even the weakest of North Koreans reveal a portrait of a brutal state, the UN reported.
February 18, 2014 -- Updated 0431 GMT (1231 HKT)
Former prisoners in North Korea describe horrific stories of being tortured by authorities.
February 14, 2014 -- Updated 1527 GMT (2327 HKT)
Skiing is not the first thing that springs to mind when thinking about the isolated nation, but North Korea's ski resort is world class.
February 8, 2014 -- Updated 0315 GMT (1115 HKT)
American Kenneth Bae, who is being held in North Korea, has been moved from a hospital to a labor camp.
January 8, 2014 -- Updated 0213 GMT (1013 HKT)
Why is he being held by North Korea in a prison camp? These are the questions for many since his arrest in the isolated country in 2012.
January 27, 2014 -- Updated 0818 GMT (1618 HKT)
The first time the South Korean factory owner watched his North Korean employees nibble on a Choco Pie, they appeared shocked.
January 8, 2014 -- Updated 0126 GMT (0926 HKT)
Dennis Rodman's "Big Bang in Pyongyang" may be in a league of its own, but other stars too have mixed with repressive regimes before.
December 19, 2013 -- Updated 1800 GMT (0200 HKT)
Former NBA star Dennis Rodman arrives in North Korea to train basketball players, state-run media reports.
December 18, 2013 -- Updated 0250 GMT (1050 HKT)
The nation held a memorial in the honor of former North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il on the second anniversary of his death.
December 13, 2013 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
Days after he was removed from his powerful military post, Jang Song Thaek was called a traitor and executed.
ADVERTISEMENT