As the Obama Administration strives for a "nuclear-free" world, there are reminders that such weapons play a vital role in our security, and actually deter potential aggressors.
Consider this UPI dispatch out of Seoul from a couple of days ago (H/T: Spacewar.com). Considering the growing threat from a nuclear-armed North Korea, a group of scholars and retired military officers are urging the re-introduction of tactical nukes in South Korea.
Readers may recall that President Obama has vowed to extend the U.S. nuclear umbrella "wide enough to protect the South." But that guarantee has been met with skepticism in some circles; it's hard for square that promise against the administration's plan to make deep cuts in our nuclear arsenal.
Cheon Seong-whun, a researcher at the government-run Korea Institute for National Unification, said the nuclear umbrella was "fragile" and not enough to shield South Korea from North Korea's nuclear threats. A nuclear umbrella also given to Japan by the United States in the past, he said, was a "negative security assurance" that has raised "a question of credibility."
If the United States is ready to launch a nuclear strike against the North to protect the South under the umbrella, he explained, it could face risks of retaliatory nuclear attacks on U.S. soil by the North, which is developing long-range missiles designed to carry a nuclear warhead that could hit the continental United States.
"There is doubt that the United States could protect Seoul at the risk of nuclear attacks on New York or Los Angeles," Cheon said at a recent forum in Seoul. "The United States should consider redeploying tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea to effectively deter North Korea's nuclear threats."
The United States withdrew its tactical nuclear weapons from South Korea under a 1992 inter-Korean accord to make the peninsula nuclear free. The United States has tens of thousands of troops stationed in the South as a deterrent against the North under a mutual defense treaty signed just after the 1950-53 Korean War.
Cheon's statements may be something of a first; a ranking official at a government-run think tank, openly urging the return of U.S. nukes to his country. And, given the organization's affiliation with the ROK government, it is almost certain that Mr. Cheon's proposal has wide support within the South Korean security apparatus. Put another way; the current Korean government has little faith in Mr. Obama's promises and is looking for a more tangible guarantee, in the form of tactical nukes, ready for use in the event of a North Korean attack.
Needless to say, the South Koreans aren't holding their breath. The last U.S. nukes were withdrawn from the peninsula in 1992, part of the post-Cold War draw down initiated by then-President George H.W. Bush. The former commander-in-chief also believed that the move would lessen tensions in Korea--call it a unilateral good will gesture.
We know how that turned out. While the U.S. reduced its deterrent presence, North Korea accelerated efforts to develop its own nuclear weapons, culminating in nuclear tests in 2006 and earlier this year. As Pyongyang continues to add to its arsenal, officials in Seoul see a renewed, American nuclear presence as a valuable hedge.
South Korea's suggestion should also be viewed as a warning to the United States. Like Japan, South Korea has the technical and financial means to rapidly develop nuclear weapons. By some estimates, Tokyo could build its first bomb in a year, and Seoul wouldn't be far behind. If our allies in northeast Asia doubt our resolve--and our willingness to cover them with our strategic umbrella--they may well embark on their own nuclear programs.
In a similar vein, John Noonan of The Weekly Standard makes a brief, but compelling case, for resurrecting the Peacekeeper ICBM program. Unilaterally shelved by former SecDef Don Rumsfeld (as a cost-saving measure), the 10-warhead missile had exceptional accuracy, and in Mr. Noonan's words, "scared the hell out of the Russians."
Why bring back the Peacekeeper? Because Moscow has continually modernized its missile arsenal over the past decade, introducing the new SS-27 Topol M ICBM. The Russians are also circumventing START provisions (which ban development of new missile systems with multiple warheads) by creating a road-mobile system of the SS-27, dubbed the RS-24.
To match that deployment, the U.S. could re-introduce the Peacekeeper, formerly based in silos at F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming. Because we retired the Peacekeeper on our own, it is not subject to START limitations. Put another way, there is nothing to keep us from bringing back the ICBM, except our own resolve.
And regrettably, that's where our current national security team comes up short. They ditched missile defense systems in Europe, in hopes of a reciprocal move from Moscow. At last report, the Obama Administration was still waiting. Given that precedent, there is absolutely no chance that the President would reintroduce the Peacekeeper, and incur the wrath of the Russians.