Do Japan and South Korea Need Nuclear Weapons?

Do Japan and South Korea Need Nuclear Weapons?
AP Photo/Evan Vucci

The North Korean regime of Kim Jong-un conducted its sixth underground nuclear test early this September – which Pyongyang claims as its first test of a hydrogen bomb – and in late August and again, two weeks later, the hermit kingdom launched a ballistic missile directly over the territory of Hokkaido in northern Japan. Now, the U.S. and its key allies in the region – primarily South Korea and Japan – look ahead to the anniversary of the founding of North Korea's communist party on October 10, which may yield yet another nuclear provocation from the rogue state.

For both Tokyo and Seoul, the nuclear threat posed by North Korea is undeniable, yet neither Japan nor South Korea – rich and technologically capable developed countries – possesses their own nuclear deterrent against Pyongyang or the long term threat posed by rising Chinese military power in the region. The reasons for this are varied, but at the end of the day, one stands out: The U.S. nuclear umbrella. For both countries, the reassurance of the United States that it will retaliate in kind to a nuclear attack on either ally is the lynchpin holding them back. However, as Pyongyang closes in on developing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of delivering a nuclear weapon to the U.S. mainland, some wonder whether Washington would really be willing to trade Los Angeles for Seoul in a shooting war.

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