Current steps by Washington may not be enough to contain South Korean pressure to rebase US tactical weapons in the country or halt an indigenous program to develop nuclear weapons, according to an analysis on 38 North.
Richard Sokolsky, a veteran former State Department official, says in an article on the Johns Hopkins University website dedicated to analyzing North Korean affairs, that the mudslinging between US President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is masking the dangers posed by the two developments that could trigger future war on the Korean peninsula.
Some high-ranking US military officers and analysts have warned that rebasing tactical nukes, which the US withdrew from South Korea after the end of the Cold War, could provoke Kim. South Korean efforts to develop their own nuclear arsenal could also serve as a similar provocation to the North, according to some assessments.
“If Washington wants to keep the South Korean nuclear genie in its bottle, the administration may need to draw the ROK more closely into US nuclear planning for the peninsula and elevate the visibility of its own nuclear footprint in and around the country,” Sokolsky writes. “But this path should only be taken if the US is ready to simultaneously take diplomatic initiatives with North Korea to prevent misperceptions and potential escalation.”
Sokolsky added: “Unless the US takes more concrete and visible steps to demonstrate the continued viability of its nuclear umbrella than it has offered to date, the South Koreans may eventually decide to go their own nuclear way, with potentially disastrous consequences for peace and security in Northeast Asia and the future of the global nuclear nonproliferation regime.”