Surprising no one, Max Boot gets another important foreign policy call wrong:
But if, in the future, South Korea does decide to go nuclear, it should not be a game changer for the United States. The United States has long tolerated nuclear weapons owned by friendly states such as France, Britain, Israel, Pakistan and India, while opposing their acquisition by rogue regimes such as Iran and North Korea. Having South Korea join the nuclear club wouldn’t change that.
Ultimately, it should be South Korea’s call. We should refrain from applying heavy-handed pressure and respect whatever decision our democratic ally makes.
US allies are sovereign and independent states, but that doesn’t mean that the US has to accept or tolerate everything they choose to do. The US would also be a poor ally if it allowed one of its principal Asian allies to make a serious error like this. South Korean nuclear weapons would not make South Korea more secure than it is for the reasons I laid out the other day, and it is very likely that South Korea would actually be worse off after acquiring them:
South Korean arsenal could end up causing South Korea a lot of economic pain and conjuring up new security threats for the dubious gains of further guarding against an attack that was already being deterred.
If the US respects its ally, it has the obligation to tell the truth when it sees that ally making a profound mistake.
The US has “tolerated” some nuclear weapons states outside the NPT only because it was in no position to discourage them from acquiring nuclear weapons when it mattered. Israel, India, and Pakistan weren’t and aren’t treaty allies of the United States, and the US certainly didn’t approve of India and Pakistan’s acquisition of nuclear weapons when it happened. A US treaty ally flouting the nonproliferation regime with tacit American approval is very different from “tolerating” weapons development by states that never belonged to the NPT.
Van Jackson recently wrote about this issue at Un-Diplomatic:
Basically, we’ve yet to see a reasonable strategic argument. Throwing around “deterrence” and “credibility” and US “abandonment” – it’s just words. They’re not being assembled into logics or causal wagers. As with AUKUS in Australia, the motivation for the policy is clear; the justification is missing. And that’s disturbing because we think nukes will make South Korea substantially less secure.
Daniel Larison is a weekly columnist for Antiwar.com and maintains his own site at Eunomia. He is former senior editor at The American Conservative. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.