Nuclear tensions are again ratcheting up on the Korean Peninsula, with Pyongyang threatening a fourth nuclear weapons test in what one U.S. analyst described as its new “allergic reaction” to routine military exercises by South Korea and United States scheduled to start on August 18.
A fourth nuclear test could further influence the debate in Seoul and Washington over whether South Korea should consider the “nuclear option.” Such a decision – if South Korea were to seriously consider it – could upturn the 60-year South Korean-U.S. alliance, global nonproliferation efforts, not to mention dozens of international obligations that tie one of Asia’s wealthiest nations to the global economy.
Even talk of “going nuclear” has some in South Korea’s political class worrying out loud that the debate has already moved from the political fringe to occupy center stage.
And there is cause for concern. The North’s third nuclear test in February 2013 shifted public opinion in South Korea over whether it should start its own nuclear weapons program.
In September 2013, in a Chosun Ilbo column, conservative commentator and political analyst Kim Dae-jung argued that it should. It is a sentiment echoed by two-thirds of the public surveyed by the Asan Institute for Policy Analysis the same month.