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.
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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.
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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, Steven L Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.

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Comments page of 3
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by: Yoshi from: Sapporo
February 15, 2013 7:59 PM
Frankly speaking, Mr. Ishihara is recognized as an extremist of hawks in Japan and no one listen to what 80-years-old man says.
Certainly PM Abe has been eager to reform Japanese constitution, but what he aims now is as a first step to make the measures need to change constitutions easy. There has erupted no pubric opinion to seek the way to possess nuclear weapons after NK's nuclear test in Japan. This news might be misleading at least at the part of concerning Japan.


by: Itmi from: USA
February 15, 2013 5:49 PM
The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. The question is who's bad and who's good.

In Response

by: Itani Milleni
February 17, 2013 11:38 AM
Len,

A blind man touching an elephan's leg and comments that elephan looks like tree. I suggest you to stand back, take a full scope of the picture, study and reasearch the globe as much as you can, it's a small bue marble, not that big. Don't be a sheeple. You maybe surprise how much you learned. The grass is not so green over there.

In Response

by: len from: NYC
February 16, 2013 9:45 AM
there is more than one question. why do you not see who the bad guy is? is North Korea the good guy? if you are not clear on that, you have a problem.
if you think North Korea can be anything other than a regime dedicated to war, not just against its own people,North and South, but war against civilization itself, you are seriously confused.
the real question is, when do we destroy this regime? Now? Soon? Later? or, after a full blown nuclear war begins?


by: SEATO
February 15, 2013 4:53 PM
Sadly but true,the possession of nuclear weapon is the best and only deterrence to war.Russia would not go to war against China,India against Pakistan,America against North Korea because they all have nuclear capability.Why do you think China always pick on Vietnam and the Philippines? Simply because they are not nuclear capable.America has been exhausted by wars.It is about time that they let South Korea and Japan arm themselves and share the burden of hostilities from these rogue states


by: JKF from: Ottawa, Canada
February 15, 2013 1:40 PM
Sanctions have absolutely failed to stop NKorea's nuclear/ICBM programs; the same negative results will probably be realized wrt Iran. Given that the US is no longer in a position to mantain a military force large enough, to be the world's policeman, due to budgetary issues translated into the upcoming big defence cuts, regional states must step up to the plate. We have now also seen/witnessed that China no longer hassignificant influence on NKorean ambitions, therefore it can't be expected to moderate NKorea. It is time for SKorea, Japan, and the other South Asian democratic nations to develop and implement credible deterrent defence alliances/ forces, or else the entire set of democratic nations will be blackmailed by NKorea.

Given the very unpredictable nature of the NKorean leadership, a strong deterrent posture, by credible force levels, are a resonable insurance to avoid the chances of useless wars. Let us not have another "Bay of Pigs" incident, were freedom fighters were abandoned on the beaches, by their sponsor, because of the associated nuclear war risks. Democratic nations need to be fully prepared to defend themselves.


by: dan from: Vancouver
February 15, 2013 12:49 PM
N.K. had a working bomb 6 years ago, and it's not rocket science for them to have planted another on the seabed already offshore Hawaii. Even L.A. is not outside the realm of possibility.

Enough of this sanctions touch football B$. N.K. needs to be tackled like yesterday. The buzz of Chinese academics out of the Chinese media indicates that Beijing is down with the U.S. stepping in hard-core.

They don't need Pyongyang; they don't need a regional enforcer waving a bomb around insanely under their nose. They do need a healthy U.S., Japanese, and S. Korean economy. They are just doing their usual U.N. diplomatic waffle—they always do that, it means nothing.

Time for the U.S. to step in and put Kim's lights out.

In Response

by: Rexford Dundon
February 16, 2013 11:42 PM
That's the problem with nuclear weapons, sure you have them, but you can't use them (especially against someone that has A LOT of them) N Korea nukes Honolulu or Los Angeles.. once we find out who did it, is removed from the face of the earth, they know it, we know it.. so no one uses them.. it's called MAD, Mutually Assured Destruction and it's kept WW3 from happening for over 70 years and as long as there are large amounts of nuclear weapons in the hands of sane nations, it will keep WW3 from happening.

In Response

by: David English from: Canada
February 16, 2013 11:43 AM
And you wonder why countries like N.Korea want a credible nuclear deterrent to aggression. It's so easy to say the US should just play policeman... but that threat is the REASON N.Korea, Iran, Syria, Iraq, et.all want(ed) nuclear/chemical/biological weapons. They can't possibly invest enough to defend themselves against those threats using conventional weapons. N.Korea tried and their people are starving as a result. WMD are their only options. STOP threatening them and maybe they won't feel the need.

N.Korea has publicly stated that all they want is direct talks with the US and a no-invasion guarantee to give up their nuks. No chance of that 'eh... not with people all over the world saying the US should just go in and deal with them... using their sons and daughters.

In Response

by: len from: NYC
February 16, 2013 10:05 AM
DAN, I am sure you're a nice guy.Vancouver is a great place and should be safe.We shouldn't have to live in a world of threats, bullies,blackmailers, and thugs. Hitler was a mass murderer but the US ignored him for almost a decade. Now,the US does not ignore any regime and does all that is possible,short of all out war,to contain these human aberrations."Putting Kim's lights out" is a simplified and self-satisfying solution for you. But its more complicated than it seems,you should realize.
We may have to take military action against these regimes,eventually,but when we do, it won't be just a matter of putting out their lights. We have "lights" too, and so does Vancouver. We want to have a world we can live in,decently,after we deal with these meglomaniacs. So,Dan, I suggest you read and study,keep on top of events, support your nation and its allies, and look deeply into the issues.

In Response

by: michael bouchard from: viña del mar chile
February 15, 2013 5:57 PM
I agree sanctions are ineffective. However, the U.S. attacked Afg. and Iraq with no reasonable provocation. There were no WMDs. To attack NK because they actually have weapons of mass destruction would be catamount to starting WWIII. Remember the basis of all democracies, you can´t arrest somebody for what he might or is capable of doing but only for what he DOES!!! You right wing religious right bangers are dooming all humanity to total destruction. Negociation is the key to harmonious co-existence, not aggression. History dude, remember vietnam, afg. and iraq.

In Response

by: dan from: Vancouver
February 15, 2013 4:17 PM
Canadians have fought alongside American forces in Afghanistan. Do not cherry-pick where Canadians have not fought alongside, there is not always perfect alignment of policies.

We are signatories to non-proliferation; we cannot have nukes. I do the best I can, but that's not the point. Hawaii (and possibly L.A.) are viable candidates for clandestine delivery of nuclear weapons. Don't write off your own states. You saw the video. It's got nothing to do with 'hawkishness'. It is the only solution to a geopolitical nut with a nuke. Sanctions mean nothing.

In Response

by: Nate from: MN
February 15, 2013 1:27 PM
Umm, Dan... you live in Canada. So, it would cost you nothing for the US to step in and once again solve the world's problems.

If you are so hawkish, consult your members of Parliament and urge them to respond with force. We've had enough defending the sissies of our disarmed Western "allies." Enough of my family and friends have been deployed, some never to return, in the name of global stability. Put up or shut up, but stop demanding that the US continuously search and destroy your problems.


by: Gert Frob from: america
February 15, 2013 12:37 PM
China will always remain complacent where N. Korea is concerned.

In Response

by: Anonymous
February 15, 2013 4:22 PM
Gert & Charles

Beijing is neither complacent nor playing a double game. I've abandoned the notion they can see N.K. as a regional proxy-enforcer.

They want the N.K. problem solved, and will look the other way if the U.S. pounds the tar out of Kim Jon-un's lungs.

In Response

by: Charles Smyth from: Belfast
February 15, 2013 1:53 PM
It would seem that the Chinese are playing a double game, with the North Koreans the equivalent of the Taliban to Pakistan. Another of China's nuclear proliferation client-states. It is to be hoped that it is not beyond audacity to hope, that China now realizes that this is a perilous foreign policy. A foreign policy that, like it has for Pakistan already, much scope for domestic repercussions.


by: Cephus Allin, MD from: Fort Collins, CO
February 15, 2013 12:35 PM
Just "lend them some".
Immediate deterent with immediate results.
We send them with targeting already set and they get the launch codes.
The delivery system only needs to go 120 miles between the capitals in Korea.

In Response

by: dan from: Vancouver
February 15, 2013 4:24 PM
Really. Before they float something onto the seabed off Hawaii.

Remember the Cheonan. N.K. is nothing if not extremely clever.


by: Charles Smyth from: Belfast
February 15, 2013 12:08 PM
When South Korea and Japan see that the the US has absolutely no influence on North Korea, why should the South Koreans and Japanese trust the efficacy of the US' defence guarantees, which seem to be worth less than the paper they are written on, in the face of North Korea's belligerence. Likewise, they can, as safely as the North Koreans, disregard any US anger.

In Response

by: Charles Smyth from: Belfast
February 15, 2013 2:21 PM
Well... allow me to respond! Many of the EU's 27 member-states are in NATO, along with the US, and have a combined military spend the equal of the US', much vainglorified excess. A most recent example of our cooperation is where France, on its own, liberated Mali, in less than a month, from the consequences of the ineptitude of its US trained army. To be fair though, France has historical and contemporary experience of Mali, so had something of a heads-up in comparison to the US' experience of Afghanistan and/or Iraq. Two theatres of conflict over which the US chose to completely ignore its former imperial allies' advice. As for the Real IRA: Why would the US be supporting a terror organisation dedicated to the destruction of Ireland?

In Response

by: Nate from: MN
February 15, 2013 1:29 PM
And Chuck, is it our place to step in and assist the Real IRA?

While we do have a defense pact with SK and Japan, what aggression has there been for us to defend them against? Cry anti-Yankee all you want, but the fact of the matter is you and your EU pals contribute almost nothing to the cause you champion in your post.


by: Jenny from: Ky
February 15, 2013 11:55 AM
Why does this feel familiar??
Oh yea.. Germany.


by: Davis K. Thanjan from: New York
February 15, 2013 11:55 AM
India developed nuclear deterrance when the UN and the world did not stop China from developing nuclear arsenal. Iran, Iraq and Syria attempted development of nuclear capability because the UN and the rest of the world ignored the nuclear capability of Israel. The UN and the world allowed the North Korea to develop nuclear bomb and delivery system. There is no point in negotiations, trade restrictions and pleading China to disuade North Korean development of nuclear arsenal.

North Korea's neighbors such as China and Russia are nuclear superpowers. They are not a threat ot North Korea and North Korea is not a threat to China and Russia. But North Korea is threatening South Korea and Japan. The only way to subdue North Korea is the development of nuclear capability by South Korea and Japan. Stationing of US nuclear arms in South Korea and Japan is another alternative. But South Korea and Japan are paralized by the ideological reasons and the restrictive post World War II constitution, respectively.

In Response

by: James from: Jersey
February 16, 2013 9:45 AM
#michael bouchard

Think you need some history lessons and more recent examination on events. Britain have ALSO spent billions defending the freedom, we certainly dont sit back as you put it. One of USA best allies. However, I agree with your comments, we are fed up with the world police policy too.

In Response

by: michael bouchard from: viña del mar chile
February 15, 2013 6:08 PM
unilateral attack by the US?? Would only lead to the brink of WWIII. The US citizens have had enough of paying for the world police policy of the US Defence manufacturing complex. It is time for a change. Countries like Canada, Australia, France, England and all of the European nations have been sitting back while the US has spent Billions of Dollars defending the freedom of the afore mentioned countries. Look at the bottom line. The socialist countries can only afford their social programs because the US spends 51% of taxes collected on the military budget.

In Response

by: dan from: Vancouver
February 15, 2013 4:27 PM
China does not regard N.K. as a non-threat. The Chinese people are not talking like they are a non-threat.

In Response

by: Nate from: MN
February 15, 2013 1:32 PM
And maybe we should give Burma, Thailand, and the Philippines nuclear aramaments Davis. Increasing our influence amongst in SE Asia would surely leverage any position the Chinese have, especially in their ongoing South China sea disputes with our allies.

But, as you say, more nuclear weapons in the region will surely increase stability.

In Response

by: Philip from: IL
February 15, 2013 12:28 PM
"Stationing of US nuclear arms in South Korea and Japan is another alternative..."

We already have nuclear subs within firing range of Pyongyang, that hasn't changed anything.

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