Basing US nuclear weapons in South Korea could provoke North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to take extreme actions and might not be a good idea, says Lt. General Jack Weinstein, the Pentagon’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Strategic Deterrence and Nuclear Integration.
“(Kim) could over-react and that could be very bad for the South Korean people,” Weinstein said, noting that Kim is the kind of volatile head of state who has already ordered the killing of his half-brother and uncle.
Weinstein, who helps to oversee the land-based missile and bomber component of America’s nuclear triad, also says there will be war if Pyongyang carries out an attack across the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea.
“If the North Koreans go south of the DMZ there will be war,” Weinstein said.
If there is war, Weinstein also predicted that North Korean artillery dug in on the communist side of the border will cause considerable damage to the nearby South Korean capital of Seoul.
The three-star US Air Force general made the comments during the question-and-answer session after a talk at the Harvard Club of New York City on March 21. He took pains to hew to the assertive but realistic line on North Korea and China recently taken by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis.
“We will be there to defend South Korea and Japan,” Weinstein said. “The alliances that the US has are vital to the US.”
Weinstein also echoed the Trump administration’s stance on diplomatic and military options available in resolving the crisis over North Korea’s nuclear missile program.
“The US position has always been that nothing is off the table,” Weinstein said.
As far as an ultimate resolution of the North Korean problem is concerned, Weinstein said: “China has to be part of the solution.” He added that one of the sticking points in finding such a solution is that “China would rather have North Korea on its border than the US or South Korea.”
Weinstein says the US is prepared to deal with the long-term threat to US targets posed by Pyongyang’s long-range missiles.
The general noted this is why the US deployed the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system to South Korea, Aegis cruisers near Japan and anti-missile systems at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and in Alaska.
“I’m pretty comfortable with what we have,” Weinstein said.
Weinstein is also a believer in deterrence though superior firepower. “My belief is that a strong nuclear force keeps this country safe,” he said during his talk.
“Deterrence is capability times will,” Weinstein said. “You need to have the will to use it.”
There is no button
In responding to a question on how easy it would be for President Donald Trump to “press the button” in a nuclear war, Weinstein downplayed such concerns.
“There is no button,” Weinstein said flatly. In the event of a serious crisis, Weinstein noted that a number of conferences would be held at the military and cabinet level before the president is “brought in.” Advisers would then present the president with the options available to address the crisis.
Nuclear strikes just don’t happen. “It’s a big process to go through in order to do that,” Weinstein said.