In the course of their talk of “military responses” to North Korea, South Korean officials are increasingly advocating launching a program to develop nuclear weapons of their own, saying it would give them “nuclear sovereignty.”
The US has expanded their nuclear umbrella over South Korea, but the hawkish advocates of the nuclear program say that President Trump’s “America-first” stance has them doubting he’d actually defend South Korea in the case of a conflict.
In reality, President Trump has been threatening to attack North Korea unilaterally for months, and likely would jump at the chance of using defending an ally as a pretext for such a war. There is no practical “need” for South Korea to have such a program.
Yet it’s an increasingly popular talking point for South Korea’s Conservative MPs, both because liberal President Moon Jae-in is opposed to such a program, and because polls have shown that months of talking up an imminent war has more voters in favor on the idea.
South Korea had a nuclear weapons program, but abandoned it in 1975, at the behest of the US. President Trump has in the past expressed comfort with the idea of allies like South Korea getting nukes, though this is contrary to long-time US policy on proliferation.
The value of nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula has been in question since the Korean War at any rate, because the terrain is hilly and would keep the blast radius limited.