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  • Path to Nuclear Weapons: Balancing Deterrence, Preemption, and Defense for South Korea

    The US–Republic of Korea alliance has been crucial to South Korean security policy calculations, especially the component of extended nuclear deterrence. Recent Special Measures Agreement negotiations on sharing military cost suggests that the price for US extended deterrence is likely to increase in the years to come. In addition to the cost of the US–ROK alliance being put in the spotlight, North Korea’s insatiable appetite for nuclear weapons, including missiles of all ranges, arguments for South Korea’s nuclear weapons development and armament are surfacing in Seoul as they did in 2016 when North Korea conducted nuclear tests. This article examines policy options for South Korea by examining costs and benefits of the extended nuclear deterrence and nuclear weapons armament. Unless there is a crisis situation shocking enough to completely change the game and lead to disruption of the alliance relationship and its structure, or a change in North Korea’s level of violence and animosity, the shared values and goals between South Korea and the United States will make the nuclear path cost-prohibitive for South Korea.
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The views and opinions expressed or implied in JIPA are those of the authors and should not be construed as carrying the official sanction of the Department of Defense, Air Force, Air Education and Training Command, Air University, or other agencies or departments of the US government or their international equivalents.