US considers returning strategic arms to South Korea

© Issei Kato
Washington and Seoul are in talks over possible re-deployment of strategic nuclear arsenals and missile defense systems to the Korean peninsula, withdrawn from the region in the ‘90s. Beijing sees the move as a direct threat to China’s security.

North Korea’s alleged hydrogen bomb test on Wednesday has pushed the militaries of South Korea and the US towards discussions about returning American “strategic assets,” such as nuclear-capable B-52 bombers, F-22 stealth fighter jets and nuclear-powered submarines to American military bases in South Korea, the Yonhap news agency reports.

“It is time for us to peacefully arm ourselves with nukes from the perspective of self-defense to fight against North Korea's terror and destruction,” Yonhap cites Won Yoo-cheol, senior lawmaker with South Korea's ruling Saenuri Party, as saying publicly.

The Pentagon’s readiness to provide Seoul with “every means for extended deterrence,” was declared in a joint statement by Defense Minister Han Min-koo and US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter. There are concerns that Washington might use Pyongyang’s latest provocative nuclear test on January 6 as a pretext for extending its military presence on the Korean peninsula.

READ MORE: US & S. Korea consider ‘deploying American strategic assets’ amid border crisis

South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Lee Sun-jin has already held consultations with US Forces Korea commander General Curtis Scaparrotti regarding “the issue of deploying the US military's strategic assets to the Korean Peninsula,” a ministry official told Yonhap, adding, “various options” are on the table.

The current American-South Korean military cooperation is based on the 4D principle, which stands for “detect, disrupt, destroy, and defend."

However, Defense Minister Han Min-koo has spoken against bringing a foreign nuclear arsenal to the country.

“The government maintains a position against the production of nuclear weapons or deployment of those on the Korean Peninsula,” the minister said during a parliamentary session.

Apart from possible re-deployment of nuclear deterrence to the Korean peninsula, Washington is discussing the stationing of the THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) advanced missile defense system with Seoul, a move strongly opposed by Beijing, which sees deployment of the complex as proliferation of US military presence in the region.

South Korea’s former national security adviser Chun Yung-woo believes deployment of THAAD is overdue, saying: “It is an act of neglecting the life and safety of the people to not deploy the defense network to protect us from North Korea's nuclear weapons.” It has become obvious now that Pyongyang has no intention of giving up its nuclear program, Chun said.