America Should Loan South Korea and Japan Nuclear Weapons

June 9, 2018 Topic: Security Region: Asia Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: NukesAmericaNorth KoreaSouth KoreaJapanMilitaryTechnology

America Should Loan South Korea and Japan Nuclear Weapons

The only way to get the result America wants in negotiations with North Korea is to get a nuclear force in place in South Korea and trade it away in exchange for the North's own nuclear arsenal. 

By turning Japan and South Korea into what might be called “acting nuclear powers”, the loaned nuclear force would dash China's hopes of dominating the region. It would have to pay in strategic currency to get Japan and South Korea to give up those loaned nuclear forces.

Could America get the same result by economic inducements, as officials have recently been suggesting? That is dangerously unrealistic. America is forced for the moment to hope it might work, since this is America's main tactic at present, but it would be dangerous for the U.S. to continue leaving itself dependent on this hope.

Economic incentives should be only a secondary factor in dealing with such regimes. Washington should make no mistake—it is hard military facts on the ground that China and North Korea respect. Also, a U.S. decision to loan a nuclear force to its allies would actually give economic sticks or carrots a much better chance of working. They would be a supplement to military power, as they should be, not a substitute.

Is a nuclear loan feasible? Yes, for the same reason dual-key arrangements were feasible. The U.S. needs to start doing contingency planning and preparation for such a loan. The political will is likely to follow, as the need for such a nuclear loan is likely to become increasingly apparent.

There are political obstacles in Japan's lack of public support for nuclear weapons and from the government of South Korea. Fortunately, Japan has an able and realistic government, and the South Korean people and military are also much more realistic than their current, rather weak government. If the U.S. starts making a contingency plan for the nuclear loan, ways are likely to open up to act on it when needed. The negotiations with the North are sure to be a bumpy ride, continually semi-collapsing for want of a way to reach the necessary result. The readiness to act on the loan may arise very suddenly, as people realize that it is the only way to make the negotiations succeed.

With North Korea on the edge of a capacity to destroy the U.S. outright, it is of supreme importance for America to get the leverage to denuclearize it in the course of these negotiations. Failure will leave only the options of preemptive war or a decision to accept and endure a North Korean capacity to destroy America.

The risk from preemptive war is enormous. The threat from a fully nuclear North Korea is existential. It is in this context that the options have to be weighed. The least risky option at this point is for the U.S. to loan a nuclear force to its allies and see if America and South Korea can thereby make the negotiations succeed.

Ira Straus is an independent foreign affairs analyst. He has taught international relations for three years in universities and has worked for three decades in organizations devoted to the Western alliances and their relations with Communist and post-Communist regimes. He contributed an article to the National Interest on nuclear counterproliferation in 2004.

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