So Much for a Nuclear-Free Korea

Update:   A well-informed reader says the Pentagon denies this story.

This should get their attention in Beijing.  As ye sow:

Seoul and Washington will add use of nuclear arms by U.S. forces in response to North Korean atomic weapons in a joint operation strategy codenamed OPLAN 5027, sources said Thursday. That would mean the return of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea 15 years after they were pulled out in 1991.

At the 28th Military Committee Meeting (MCM) between the allies, Gen. Lee Sang-hee, the chairman of South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff met his U.S. counterpart Gen. Peter Pace in Washington on Wednesday. The two mandated U.S. Forces Korea Commander Gen. Burwell Bell to draw up plans for the U.S. provision of a nuclear umbrella for South Korea in the wake of the North’s nuclear test, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

“We asked for a detailed guarantee of a nuclear umbrella to guard against North Korea’s nuclear weapons, and the U.S. agreed,” said Rear Adm. Ahn Ki-seok, chief of the JCS’ strategic planning department. “Strategic guidelines were given to the USFK commander immediately to come up with plans to provide a nuclear umbrella for us.”

The United States withdrew its  nukes from Korea in  1991, pursuant to  an inter-Korean dunuclearization agreement that the North Koreans flagrantly violated years before the Agreed Framework was conceived, written, and also duly violated.  At one time, the U.S. nuclear arsenal  in South Korea  was more than enough to destroy North Korea and still wipe out troop/supply concentrations in what we’ll diplomatically refer to as “points north.”

The nuclear weapons, deployed at 16 military installations here five years after the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, were designed to be put atop missiles or artillery warheads as a deterrent against North Korea, according to military observers.

The 11 types of weapons systems included aerial gravity bombs, atomic demolition mines, nuclear-tipped Nike Hercules, Sergeant Lance and Honest John missiles, as well as several types of artillery.

The U.S. stockpiled at least 453 nuclear weapons in South Korea until 1977, but the number was reduced to 249 in 1983 and 151 in 1985, said Choi Sung, a lawmaker from the ruling Uri Party, citing declassified U.S. defense and diplomatic documents.

Most of those delivery systems are now obsolete.  Expect the new nukes —  if they ever arrive, that is —  to go into more modern systems.  I would add that for proponents of the alliance, having a real nuclear deterrent that fits inside an F-117’s payload bay does give the USFK some real power projection  value.  In another sense, however, Tomhawks launched from our ships, subs,  and aircraft can do almost as well for most reasonably likely missions. 

Yet something tells me  that all of this is premature, because we haven’t factored politics into any of this.   The odds are excellent that the radical South Korean  left will  make a full-court press to  oppose this, and if so, it’s better than even that politics will prevail  over sound  military  judgment and the Roh Administration will melt into a quivering glob of  spineless, indecisive goo.  If you believe this report, someone in the Roh Administration may have tried to remove a traditional reference to the U.S. “nuclear umbrella” from  last year’s  joint statement after the annual  Security Consultative Meeting. 

This year, the trend whipsawed back the other way, with South Korean Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-Ung wanting a statement to the effect that an attack on Korea would be considered an attack on the United States.  Sayeth Rummy:  no, thank you.  This all became rather awkward, and publicly so:

Yoon demurred: “This morning, we had extensive discussions about the nuclear umbrella issue, as we did during yesterday’s … meeting. So I hope that when the joint statement comes out eventually, it’ll have different language from years past.”

RUMSFELD: “Oh, do you?”

YOON: “I think so.”

RUMSFELD: “I see.”

Yoon had said in his meetings with Rumsfeld that the statement should be more explicit about U.S. nuclear assurances, according to two American officials who participated in the talks and who would discuss the matter only on condition of anonymity.

The report has more fun on cost-sharing and operational control; both issues still appear to be unresolved.   

On the U.S. side, recent events in Korea ought to cause serious reconsideration of our decision to scale back our nuclear arsenal, particularly a proposed deep-earth penetrator.

6 Comments

  1. I would be very surprised if nukes are deployed on the Korean peninsula again. It would give the leftist a new rallying cry against USFK and is probably something the SK public will agree with the leftists on. We can just as easily bomb and nuke North Korea from Guam as from Osan. Plus US nukes in SK gives Kim Jong-il added cover of why he needs nukes; to protect his country from the US nukes in SK. Not a good idea, but I don’t believe inital South Korean press reports anyway so I am going to wait for a Pentagon release before I believe this.

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