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Precursor to Conflict: Deploying US Nuclear Subs to South Korea

Updated: Apr 28, 2023

Tensions in the Asia Pacific region have recently increased significantly as a result of the news that the US intends to dock nuclear-armed submarines in South Korea for the first time since the 1980s.

The plan entails significant risks and could elicit a risky response from North Korea, despite US officials' claims that the submarines will just be visiting South Korea and that the US has no intention of permanently placing nuclear weapons there.

It is impossible to overestimate the significance of denuclearization in the Asia-Pacific area. Numerous nuclear-armed states, including China, Russia, India, Pakistan, and North Korea, are found in the region. Nuclear weapon proliferation in the area has sparked a deadly arms race and increased the likelihood of conflict. Any country with nuclear weapons poses a serious threat to international security, so de-nuclearizing the area should be a key priority for all countries.

For a number of reasons, stationing nuclear-armed submarines in South Korea is a bad idea. First of all, it runs the risk of inciting further hostilities on the Korean Peninsula and might elicit a risky response from North Korea. North Korea has previously threatened to take "strong measures" in retaliation for the stationing of US nuclear weapons in the area. Additional missile testing or even a military attack, which would have catastrophic effects on the entire region, could be included in this.

Second, it's possible that the placement of nuclear weapons in South Korea will spark an arms race in the area. The US deployment has alarmed both China and Russia, and it's possible that they will retaliate by bolstering their own nuclear weapons in the area. This would only serve to further increase tensions and the risk of conflict.

Finally, the stationing of nuclear weapons in South Korea runs counter to regional trends that favour collaboration and de-escalation. The relationship between North and South Korea has improved recently thanks to the two countries' participation in sporting events together and a number of high-level meetings. Instead of adopting steps that could jeopardise these efforts for peace and de-escalation, the US should seek to assist them.

As things stand, the way in which the peninsula could be made safer is through reduced sanctions, reduced military drills and buildup, and more cross-Korean dialogue. It is a poor concept that runs the risk of raising tensions and inciting a disastrous response from North Korea, as was recently revealed by the US, which plans to dock nuclear-armed submarines in South Korea.

Security and cooperation, not antagonism and conflict, are what the area needs right now. The US should re-evaluate this choice and work to ensure that the entire area has a peaceful, non-nuclear future.


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