Yo gap News Agency
SEOUL, March 5 (Yonhap) -- The possibility of the United States redeploying tactical nuclear weapons on South Korean soil to counter North Korea's evolving military threat is expected to fuel a fresh debate on national defense, sources said Sunday.
The debate comes as the weekend issue of the New York Times reported that in the most recent meeting of U.S. President Donald Trump's national security deputies, discussion took place on the option of basing tactical nukes on the Korean Peninsula.
The news outlet said the exchange of views occurred last week at the Situation Room, with aides pointing out such a act will send a "dramatic warning" to the North.
This marks the first time that the tactical nuke issue has been brought up by policymakers in the new administration and is drawing considerable attention, local observers said.
Washington had removed all tactical weapons from the Northeast Asian country in September 1991 after the U.S. called for a reduction in its nuclear arsenal.
More recently, with the escalation of North Korea's nuclear threat, there have been calls by some in the country to bring back U.S. nukes or for South Korea to acquire its own nuclear weapons technology.
Since 2006, the North has conducted five underground nuclear test and fired off large number of ballistic missiles that has caused considerable jitters in South Korea as well as in the United States.
"With Washington seemingly raising the matter for review, it may be inevitable that some sort of discussion will take place going forward," an official source, who declined to be identified, said.
Unlike strategic nuclear weapons, such as intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and those fired off from submarines and dropped by bombers, tactical nukes usually have a small yield warhead of under 20 kilotons that only affects certain battlefields.
These nuclear weapons can be delivered by field artillery and even small bombs and missiles, with the military saying that the United States has forward deployed 180 such weapons in some North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries like Germany and Turkey as of 2015.
Related to the possible talks on tactical nukes, a weapons expert claimed that such a deployment will allow Seoul to maintain nuclear parity with the North and can allow the country to engage in disarmament talks on a more equal basis.
"Since South Korea will have nukes on its soil, it can better engage in negotiations with the North," the source said.
On the other hand, there are quite a few in the country that are against any deployment. Those opposed said any move in that direction could actually give legitimacy to North Korea's nuclear program and make it that much harder to get Pyongyang to give up its nuclear ambitions.
They said a more plausible approach would be to deploy more U.S. strategic asset like bombers and stealth fighters on a rotational basis on the Korean Peninsula. This, they argued, will send a clear message to the North that its nuclear threats won't work, without fueling overt confrontation.