South Korean lawmaker touts nuclear option


A prominent South Korean lawmaker has said his country should consider developing nuclear weapons or bringing back a former U.S. arsenal as a way to pressure North Korea and its ally China.

Chung Mong Joon, a billionaire businessman and ruling conservative party member, said Tuesday on a visit to Washington that the latest crisis with Pyongyang showed that diplomacy had failed.

“The lesson of the Cold War is that against nuclear weapons, only nuclear weapons can hold the peace,” Chung said.

He argued that South Korea has the right to withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and then to match the North’s nuclear work step by step, only stopping if Pyongyang does likewise.

“It would send a clear warning that, by continuing its nuclear program, North Korea is releasing the nuclear genie in East Asia,” Chung told the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “North Korea, and for that matter China as well, should know that South Korea has this option if it persists in possessing nuclear weapons. Telling us not to consider any nuclear option is tantamount to telling us to simply surrender.”

Chung said the U.S. also has the option to return to South Korea the nuclear weapons it withdrew in 1991 at the end of the Cold War.

The remarks by Chung are not mainstream and few experts expect South Korea to seek a nuclear arsenal. But the opening of the debate in Seoul is likely to raise apprehension in Washington, which has vowed to protect the South and Japan under its nuclear umbrella.