South Korea and Nuclear Weapons: Retrospect and Prospects
Policy Briefs

South Korea and Nuclear Weapons: Retrospect and Prospects

APLN Policy Brief 56

South Korea first considered developing nuclear weapons under President Park Chung Hee in response to the Nixon administration’s plan to withdraw US forces from South Korea. Concerned about the reliability of the US nuclear umbrella and US forces stationed in Korea so long as North Korea’s military threats remained, Park launched the nuclear weapons project by seeking to import French reprocessing plants and establishing government funded institutes for research and development of fissile materials and nuclear weapon delivery means. The plan was detected by Washington and the US intensified efforts to roll back South Korea’s nuclear weapon program. In 1982 the Chun Doo Hwan administration dis-established all nuclear weapon and missile related institutes and personnel. With the 1991 US decision to withdraw all tactical nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula, Seoul sought to achieve a nuclear-weapon-free Korean Peninsula and negotiations with North Korea resulted in the Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula that entered into force in February 1992. Within a year this agreement began to unravel as North Korea embarked on its nuclear weapons program and developed intermediate and long range missiles. Unless the international community succeeds in denuclearizing North Korea, public demands in South Korea to restart a nuclear weapon program will rise. Therefore, serious challenges lie ahead to again make the Korean Peninsula non-nuclear, requiring unprecedented measures to be taken by international institutions and concerned countries in Northeast Asia.

About the Author

Yong-Sup Han is a professor of Korea National Defense University and a member of APLN. He has served as Vice President and Director General of Research Institute for National Security Affairs of Korea National Defense University. He has also been President of Korea Nuclear Policy Society (2012–15) and President of Korea Peace Research Association (2006–10). He is the author of Nuclear Disarmament and Nonproliferation in Northeast Asia (UNIDIR, 1995), Peace and Arms Control on the Korean Peninsula (Kyungnam University Press, 2005) and numerous journal articles on security and disarmament issues.


Image: Pixabay stock, Gerd Altmann.

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