Friday, October 23, 2009

The Case for Nukes

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: 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.


chrisale said...

What exactly is there to Nuke in North Korea? The border?

And would much of the fallout head toward Japan?

THis all sounds to me like a large part of the Military Complex that is feeling threatened and trying to justify its own existence... which is increasingly redundant and counter-productive.

PCSSEPA said...

You need to remember that the DPRK is crazy, but not on the same level as the Iranians. They understand that they (the leadership) would targeted in any nuclear attack and do not have a desire to martyrs. If you think that the rest of the nuclear armed world is just sitting back and letting their arsenals deteriorate, you are beyond naive. The bully never picks a fight with somebody because he thinks they are strong; he picks a fight because he thinks they are weak. Somehow, peaceniks and leftists in this country have forgotten that lesson.

chrisale said...

Funny, and here I thought the US Army destroyed the last "million man army" in Iraq sans-Nukes. Is there not still an entire Division of the US Army based in South Korea along with the South Koreans themseves.

I certainly wouldn't disagree with you that the DPRK is nutso in a Slim Pickens kinda way... but that means it is even less critical to have nukes there... crazy is as crazy does.

If anyone in the DPRK has any sense of self-preservation left, they won't be moving an inch towards that line as long as there is an entire Division of the US Army there along with the South Koreans... let alone assure their own destruction by lobbing a nuke onto their neighbour.

And don't worry, you need not blame your countrymen... I speak from outside your fair nation.

Rich said...

As the North continues their nuclear program the US places doubt in what needs to be an ironclad credible deterrence. So what, a US Division on the ground is a sufficient symbol of our commitment.
Well, the point is that a clear perception of an inadequate US umbrella, particularly by the Japanese, becomes a vacuum that will be filled by either the US (e.g. reinstating Peacemaker, among other actions), the Japanese acquiring deterrent capabilities, or just perhaps by Chinese actions. The Chinese will not tolerate a nuclear Japan or welcome a stronger, more credible US umbrella for Soeul, Japan and Taiwan. It seems to me that they will be compelled to finally and forcefully pressure the DPRK to some accomodation with the US and Japan - while simultaneously pressuring the US to hold fast (as they certainly can with this Administration). Tactical nukes may seem practical to some Generals in Seoul. But they MAY NOT deter the DPRK. Tactical nukes would likely prompt a first use situation if the North were to advance to a designated "trigger" point using conventional forces, intending to hold their limited nuclear assets as a threat. That is why the perception amongst our allies in the region of a weak deterrence increases the danger of such a unacceptable scenario. Complicating this situation are the unknowns of possible leadership changes in the North.

1point21gw said...

Don't expect the Peacekeeper to come back any time soon. The way it was deactivated, bringing it back online would probably cost just as much as developing a new system. According to Wikipedia, the missiles themselves have been sold.

tfhr said...


The US nuclear umbrella is about deterrent, not about destroying real estate.

The U.S. Army no longer maintains a full division on the peninsula. Even when it did, the presence was for deterrence by acting as a trip wire. Engage the 2 ID and you engage the United States, not just a single division on a spit of land where more than two million men were under arms.

A point you and I seem to agree on is that the North is about maintaining the status quo for the dictator and his entourage. Given their pathetic economic condition, they resort to various criminal industries and a game of near nuclear blackmail to generate enough money to satisfy their personal needs.

A greater danger is that the North may supply nuclear weapons to Iran, among others possibilities, or the means to produce them, as was nearly the case with Syria. As many have already pointed out, Iran is led by people insane enough to initiate a nuclear exchange.

Another point you should consider is that an American nuclear capability in South Korea precludes, though it may not guarantee, Seoul from pursuing an independent nuclear capability. That makes both China and Japan happy, the latter of which might be compelled to develop it's own capability if the U.S. were to pull the umbrella back from North East Asia altogether. Can you imagine how China would react if Japan announced that it had embarked on a program to develop a nuclear weapon?

Finally, your use of the terms "redundant" and "counter-productive" in the context of your final paragraph reveal a point of view that ignores the real threats presented by heavily armed and aggressive countries like Iran and North Korea. You might stop to consider that a nuke delivered against the US by either Iran or North Korea stands decent chance of causing damage against an unintended target, including Canada.

James praker said...

Well I am agree with 1point21gw:

He has explained the scenario in limited words like we should not expect to have a peacekeeper. According to my knowledge almost all weapons are not only sold but replaced with the newer ones.

- J.
Web Designing

Unknown said...

"The US nuclear umbrella is about deterrent, not about destroying real estate."

It is only an effective deterrent as long as there is someone with a spine that will make the retaliatory move rather than await the focus group's opinion.