The Korea Herald


US should redeploy tactical nuke on peninsula: Bolton

Ex-national security adviser to Trump says China should be held accountable for NK's nuclear buildup

By Ji Da-gyum

Published : April 25, 2023 - 16:00

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John Bolton, former White House national security adviser, speaks at the Asan Plenum 2023 hosted by the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul on Tuesday. (Asan Institute for Policy Studies) John Bolton, former White House national security adviser, speaks at the Asan Plenum 2023 hosted by the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul on Tuesday. (Asan Institute for Policy Studies)

The United States should redeploy its tactical nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula to make US extended deterrence credible against escalating threats from North Korea, said John Bolton, former White House national security adviser, on Tuesday. This strategy would also enable South Korea to buy time to weigh up the gains and losses of nuclear armament, he added.

“I’ve refused to give up on the possibility of stopping North Korea from getting deliverable nuclear weapons in the first place. That should remain (at) the center of our attention. This is not over yet,” Bolton said at the Asan Plenum 2023 hosted by the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul.

“I would say this in the short term. I think the United States should redeploy tactical nuclear weapons on the peninsula.”

Bolton assessed that the advantages of bringing tactical nuclear weapons back to the peninsula outweigh the disadvantages.

“I think it ought to be made very clear to Kim Jong-un and whatever relative is looking to succeed him in North Korea that we and the government of South Korea will use tactical nuclear weapons without hesitation. That’s how you make deterrence credible,” he said.

“And I think that buys time for South Korea to think long and hard about whether it wants a separate nuclear capability.”

The onetime national security adviser to former President Donald Trump proposed the idea at a critical juncture, as the allies get ready to unveil a new strategy to strengthen US extended deterrence following the upcoming summit between South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and US President Joe Biden on Wednesday.

The US deployed tactical nuclear weapons, or nonstrategic nuclear weapons, on the Korean Peninsula between 1958 and 1991. In December 1991, the two Koreas signed the Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, pledging not to produce, possess, store, deploy or use nuclear weapons.

But Bolton underscored that North Korea has “cheated about every commitment they’ve made on the nuclear front” as more than 30 years have passed since the signing of the declaration. He dismissed negotiations with North Korea as “futile.”

“We can say that there is no evidence whatsoever that North Korea has ever made a strategic decision to give up its pursuit of nuclear weapons.”

Bolton reiterated that South Korea still has viable options to deter North Korea’s nuclear build-up as North Korea has yet to complete the development of nuclear and missile capabilities.

“But we are not yet at the moment when we have to say there's nothing more we can do. … It seems to me that it’s always opportune to think not how we’re going to change the regime in North Korea but how we will achieve success in the policy we have all said was our objective since 1945 which is a reunited Korea,” he said.

“It is not impossible. We should not give up on it simply because North Korea has gotten close while we have wasted time and resources.”

Bolton also underlined that China was not in support of efforts by South Korea, the US and Japan to achieve North Korea’s denuclearization, dismissing the six-party talks as a “vast charade.”

Rather, Pyongyang is a “useful aspect of advancing Beijing’s strategic interest.”

“The fact is that China benefits from North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, there’s no threat to China from North Korea, only a threat to China’s adversaries,” he said. “We should hold China responsible for North Korea’s actions. And the nuclear issue should be at the top of the bilateral US-Chinese agenda.”

The relationship between China and North Korea highlights the importance for the Yoon Suk Yeol government of understanding how China’s threat to Taiwan directly affects South Korea.

“A threat by China to Taiwan is a threat to South Korea. South Korea should play a larger role in the structures that are being created in this part of the world. There’s every reason for South Korea to step out and take a leadership role,” he said.

But the focus of South Korea and the US should be on coming up with measures to deter China and to prevent war by articulating the costs that China will bear if it takes any form of military action against Taiwan, such as an invasion or blockade.

To that end, South Korea could be part of the collective self-defense structures designed to maintain peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific.

The AUKUS trilateral security pact -- which consists of Australia, the US and the United Kingdom, and includes plans to cooperate on building and operating conventionally-armed, nuclear-powered submarines -- can be expanded to embrace South Korea, according to Bolton.

Bolton also proposed South Korea join the QUAD, which is a US-led democratic coalition comprising the US, Australia, India and Japan to contain China in the region, “as soon as possible.”

“I think it would make it far stronger, and give it many, many more opportunities.”