In this article I explore assumptions behind the aspiration for nuclear armament in South Korea. An increasing number of South Koreans advocate nuclear armament of their country, either by redeploying US tactical nuclear weapons or by developing an indigenous nuclear capability. Support for "going nuclear" reflects three beliefs: nuclear weapons can serve as a shield from external bullying, the balance of power between Seoul and Pyongyang has shifted due to Pyongyang's growing nuclear capability, and possessing nuclear weapons is the sole way to protect ROK national interests given growing skepticism over the credibility of the US nuclear umbrella. I revisit deterrence theory to demonstrate that these perceptions are based on the flawed assumption that nuclear weapons can only be deterred by other nuclear weapons. This assumption—an extrapolation from the Cold War experience—does not consider technological breakthroughs made since then. In fact, modern, technologically advanced conventional weapons can also deter nuclear weapons, especially those using relatively underdeveloped technologies. By continuously modernizing its conventional weapons and strengthening the ROK-US alliance, South Korea can deter Pyongyang from contemplating a nuclear assault on South Korea.


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pp. 123-144
Launched on MUSE
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