News / Asia

    Rising Voices in S. Korea, Japan Advocate Nuclear Weapons

    An analyst monitors from a computer screen in the control room of the international nuclear test monitoring agency CTBTO, in Vienna, February 12, 2013.
    An analyst monitors from a computer screen in the control room of the international nuclear test monitoring agency CTBTO, in Vienna, February 12, 2013.
    North Korea's claim this week to have successfully conducted a third underground nuclear test is prompting some in South Korea and Japan to advocate possessing their own such weapons. 

    Chung Mong-joon, chairman of the ruling Grand National Party, June 2, 2010 file photo.Chung Mong-joon, chairman of the ruling Grand National Party, June 2, 2010 file photo.
    x
    Chung Mong-joon, chairman of the ruling Grand National Party, June 2, 2010 file photo.
    Chung Mong-joon, chairman of the ruling Grand National Party, June 2, 2010 file photo.
    South Korean lawmaker Chung Mong-joon of the governing Saenuri (New Frontier) party made such a remark during a meeting of his colleagues from the National Assembly, comparing the situation with North Korea to “a gangster in the neighborhood buying a brand-new machine gun” and trying to defend oneself with merely a pebble.

    Chung is no fringe politician. He is the country's wealthiest lawmaker through his controlling shares in the Hyundai Heavy Industries group.

    The JoongAng Ilbo, major South Korean newspaper, terming North Korea's latest test an existential threat to Seoul, questions whether the country should arm itself with nuclear weapons and if the United States will ultimately protect it if Pyongyang were to threaten a nuclear attack.

    A spokesman for the opposition Democratic United Party, Park Yong-jin, criticizes the ruling party for failing during the past it is not possible to solve the problem of North Korea's nuclear program with a South Korean nuclear armament.

    Another option is reintroducing U.S. nuclear weapons onto the Korean peninsula. 

    But South Korea “is not considering bringing in tactical nuclear weapons right now because the priority is to make North Korea give up its nuclear armament,” says Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok.

    The nuclear debate is not limited to South Korea.

    Japan also concerned

    Former four-term Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara, now a member of parliament, and co-leader of the Japan Restoration Party, has openly stated his country should have nuclear bombs to counter China, North Korea and Russia.

    Japan's Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera during an interview with Reuters in Tokyo February 14, 2013.Japan's Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera during an interview with Reuters in Tokyo February 14, 2013.
    x
    Japan's Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera during an interview with Reuters in Tokyo February 14, 2013.
    Japan's Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera during an interview with Reuters in Tokyo February 14, 2013.
    In a VOA interview just hours after North Korea announced its latest nuclear test, Japanese defense minister Itsunori Onodera commented that his country's pacifist constitution restricts Tokyo “when it comes to having nuclear weapons” and thus strengthening the U.S.-Japan security alliance is the key response.

    Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, however, is among those advocating revision of Article 9 of the constitution which prohibits Japan from maintaining a war potential.

    Getting China's attention

    Some international observers contend the pro-nuclear statements from Seoul and Tokyo are in part intended to get the attention of policy makers in Beijing.

    “I'd really like to think that that's really what's happening is that their trying to make a political statement to try to get China interested in dealing with the problem,” says
    Carl Baker, director of programs at the Pacific Forum of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a bi-partisan U.S. think tank. “Ultimately the politicians in Seoul and Tokyo believe that the only way we're going to get North Korea really interested in not pursuing nuclear weapons further is by having China tell them to stop.”

    Non-Proliferation Treaty

    Baker, a former political and economic analyst for U.S. Forces Korea, cautions that any moves by South Korea or Japan to initiate a nuclear weapons program would not find approval in Washington.

    “It'll be received very negatively because we have, of course, always ensured South Korea and Japan that we provide an extended deterrent capacity to them,” he says. “There is the Non-Proliferation Treaty which requires people who don't possess nuclear weapons to not possess nuclear weapons. For South Korea and Japan to basically disregard the treaty would be a very bad step.”

    Both countries are protected under the U.S. nuclear umbrella and host thousands of American troops and several major military bases.

    Despite that, South Korea and Japan in past decades appear to have considered clandestine nuclear weapons development.

    Secret programs

    A secret South Korean program under a “weapons exploration committee” during the dictatorship of the late President Park Chung-hee existed in the 1970s. His daughter, Park Geun-hye, is to be inaugurated as president February 25, succeeding Lee Myung-bak, who was limited to a single five-year term.

    The International Atomic Energy Agency in 2004 concluded that South Korean scientists, in previous years, had produced a very small amount of fissile material that could have been placed in a weapon.

    South Korea's government at the time contended it had not authorized the experiments.

    Japan reportedly undertook, in the 1960s, a secret study on building nuclear weapons.

    Prime Minister Tsutomu Hata in 1974 stated Japan certainly had such a scientific capability. In 2006, then foreign minister Taro Aso repeated that assertion and argued Article 9 did not prohibit Japan from having nuclear weapons for self defense.

    Aso would later become a prime minister and is currently the deputy prime minister and finance minister.

    Both South Korea and Japan each have dozens of commercial nuclear power plants - a potential source of ample fuel for such weapons.

    South Korea wants revision of its atomic energy agreement with the United States to allow Seoul to reprocess spent fuel to use in future fast breeder reactors and reduce its stored nuclear waste. Washington has resisted altering the pact amid fears that the fuel could be used for nuclear weapons.

    Talks on the agreement are expected to be held after the new Park administration takes office.

    In Japan, a former overseer of the country's atomic energy program told VOA, on condition he not be named, that he has been approached by several influential lawmakers asking him how quickly the country, with its highly advanced technology, would be able to construct a viable nuclear weapon.

    Officials in Tokyo and abroad have been quoted anonymously in the past as saying the answer to that question would be six months or less.

    Youmi Kim in the VOA Seoul bureau contributed to this report.

    • An extra edition of a Japanese newspaper was delivered reporting North Korea's nuclear test, in Tokyo, February 12, 2013.
    • South Korean protesters burn a North Korean flag following a report of the nuclear test conducted by North Korea, in Seoul, South Korea, February 12, 2013.
    • Japan Meteorological Agency's earthquake and tsunami observations division director Akira Nagai points to a spot on the map showing the quake center during a news conference in Tokyo, February 12, 2013.
    • South Korean soldiers check military fences as they patrol near the demilitarized zone separating North Korea from South Korea, in Paju, north of Seoul, February 12, 2013.
    • A screen grab of the Nuclear Test Facility site in North Korea, via Google Maps satellite view.
    • South Korean soldiers monitor computers at the Seoul train station following a report about a possible nuclear test conducted by North Korea, February 12, 2013.
    • A video grab from KCNA shows the Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) rocket launching at North Korea's West Sea Satellite Launch Site, at the satellite control center in Cholsan county, North Pyongang province December 12, 2012.
    • North Koreans celebrate the successful launch of the Unha-3 rocket at Kim Il Sung square in Pyongyang December 14, 2012. The sign reads: "Let's glorify dignity and honor of great people of Kim Il Sung and of Korea of Kim Jong Il in the world!"

    Steve Herman

    A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

    You May Like

    Chechen Suspected in Istanbul Attack, but Questions Remain

    Turkish sources say North Caucasus militants involved in bombing at Ataturk airport, but name of at least one alleged attacker raises doubts

    With Johnson Out, Can a New ‘Margaret Thatcher’ Save Britain?

    Contest to replace David Cameron as Britain’s prime minister started in earnest Thursday with top candidates outlining strategy to deal with Brexit fallout

    US Finds Progress Slow Against Human Trafficking in Africa

    Africa continues to be a major source and destination for human trafficking of all kinds -- from forced labor to sexual slavery, says State Department report

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments page of 3
        Next 
    by: Pedro
    February 19, 2013 2:06 PM
    If China continues to disrupt the world's attempt to punish North Korea's erratic behaviour, S.korea & Japan should arm themselves with nukes. At least until N.korea gives up its nuclear ambitiions.

    Anything short of a full embargo against N.Korea is too lenient!

    Obviously, the last thing China wants to see is nuclear armed Japan, so by continuously helping N.Korea, they will only be punishing themselves in the near future...

    by: Yoshi from: Sapporo
    February 18, 2013 2:21 AM
    During the WWII, nukes were used first by the winner of its developing race. At that time, the purpose of using atomic bombs included not only punishing opponent but confirming its power of destruction. Now it is proved that nukes have enough power to kill hundreds of thousand of innocent citizens in a flash. Who could launch such awful arms as it is apparent they also would get counter attack with nukes? Who could be the second, North Korea? Iran? Pakistan? Russia? or US?

    by: Kanaikaal irumporai
    February 17, 2013 11:44 AM
    This means that the wider world, that still believe in eradicating nuclear weapons, should consider self imposed sanctions, boycott on the individual plane, against companies like the ones like MR. Chung Mong Joon's Hyubdai. This is a move in disguise to arm themselves with deadlier weapons, that can and sure will be used against the US and others in a Perl-harbor like attack. If they go ahead on their own, like the Indians did and the North-Koreans and the Mullahs in Tehran trying to do believing that any sanctions are short lived and will eventually be lifted,they fear, that their business would collapse dues to sanctions, that's why they choose this brilliant path.

    by: Tom Gillilan
    February 16, 2013 8:47 PM
    "Baker, a former political and economic analyst for U.S. Forces Korea, cautions that any moves by South Korea or Japan to initiate a nuclear weapons program would not find approval in Washington."

    Washington is a failed government structure incapable of protecting its own citizens from foreign invasion and conquest. The politics of Washington is the politics of a loser.

    by: Anonymous
    February 16, 2013 7:41 PM
    North Korea isn't a threat to the US yet, but could be in the future, and they keep threatening to destroy our cities and so on and so forth. Obviously, they're leaving us with no choice but to take off and nuke them from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.

    by: Mike Havenar from: New York City
    February 16, 2013 6:16 PM
    So what's the Plan? Are policymakers going to wait until this declared and implacable enemy of the United States has 10-megaton bombs and precision ICBMs, before they take out their nuclear facilities and teach the North Korean leadership, with a nuke or two, that the nuclear path is a dead end for them?

    by: Percy Pepper from: UK
    February 16, 2013 5:08 PM
    "Chung is no fringe politician. He is the country's wealthiest lawmaker through his controlling shares in the Hyundai Heavy Industries group."

    He's in politics to help the little guy. The fact that HHI are heavily involved with the nuclear industry is irrelevant, he just want's to make sure that all the little guy feel nice and safe from the evil North while they live out their short minimum wage life in the service of HHI.

    by: Wes from: United States
    February 16, 2013 11:45 AM
    "...questions whether the country should arm itself with nuclear weapons and if the United States will ultimately protect it if Pyongyang were to threaten a nuclear attack. ..."

    Maybe. But only within the first six months following a presidential election; after that, not a chance. The six month window might open up a little bit with a lame duck president, but not much.

    by: Nohu from: Japan
    February 16, 2013 8:20 AM
    I can't understand why people think that more nuclear weapons are needed for deterrent. I think it's political way for the peace, but there is no humanity. Do not forget Nuclear weapon's purpose is just only killing many many people. There is no meaning making nuclear weapons. And people also do not forget that The United State of America is only country that used nuclear weapon for human. So it's very crummy that America posses nuclear and prohibit other country from having and testing it. As a Japanese , We must tell the truth the fear of nuclear. We are only race that was used nuclear weapon at world war Ⅱ. So it is beside the question that Japanese insist on having nuclear, and other country also do not posses nuclear weapon.We must be know the only way for the real peace is all country abandon the nuclear weapon. So why not they abandon it?
    In Response

    by: David N from: United States
    February 17, 2013 7:41 AM
    North Korea and Iran would easily lose in a non-nuclear war with many other countries, the US included. They want nuclear weapons primarily to make the US think twice about doing to them what they did to Iraq and Afghanistan, so in that sense it's a perfectly rational deterrence strategy from their perspective.

    What I'm more worried about is North Korea, desperate for cash, selling their nukes to private groups, or Iran, keenly interested in seeing *someone* blow up Israel, giving one of theirs away and having plausible deniability when it gets used, thus avoiding nuclear retaliation.
    In Response

    by: Matt from: Boston
    February 16, 2013 2:11 PM
    Nohu, so why do you think the USA used nuclear weapons on Japan? It's crummy, but justified. Japan and Germany were the axis of evil and started WW2 and caused millions of deaths. Japan invaded Pearl Harbour and awoke the "sleeping giant"!

    Leason learned maybe?

    by: zero from: Asia
    February 16, 2013 2:57 AM
    If Japan drop 200 nuke on China, China will still lives, but if China drop 200 nuke on Japan, Japan will be finished. Take a look at their land mass respectively. By the way how many nuke do it need to explode on the earth surface to disturb the atmosphere to make the weather like Hollywood? Peace.
    In Response

    by: Chiang from: Singapore
    February 20, 2013 1:38 AM
    200 is enough to wipe out the entire world. It doesn't require 200 to wipe out entire China, or US, or Iran, or any country. The power of nuclear weapons nowadays are 20-400 times bigger than the ones dropped in Japan. it only takes 1 or 2 and the radiation will make the rest of place inhabitable.
    http://www.businessinsider.com/this-chart-shows-the-terrifying-power-of-modern-nuclear-bombs-2012-6
    In Response

    by: Kaushik from: India
    February 16, 2013 2:49 PM
    If 200 nukes are dropped on China, then the situation will be such that the survivours will envy the dead. There will be such ghastly effect of radiation that China will not be inhabited by likes of people shown in Resident Evil(US film)).
    So dont think of the unthinkable. Peace!
    Comments page of 3
        Next 

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Eitheri
    X
    Jim Malone
    June 29, 2016 6:16 PM
    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora