FORMER US Secretary of State and Cold War strategist Henry Kissinger has warned that East Asia is racing towards nuclear proliferation now that North Korea has developed nuclear weapons of its own.
In an interview with The New York Times, the former Nixon administration official and nuclear strategist, said he had little doubt where things were headed.
“If they continue to have nuclear weapons,” he said of North Korea, “nuclear weapons must spread in the rest of Asia.”
“It cannot be that North Korea is the only Korean country in the world that has nuclear weapons, without the South Koreans trying to match it. Nor can it be that Japan will sit there,” he added. “So therefore we’re talking about nuclear proliferation.”
Kissinger’s comments come as tensions on the Korean peninsula have escalated in recent months, with Pyongyang firing missiles over Japan and claiming they have been able to miniaturise nuclear warheads to mount on its missiles.
According to a Gallup Korea poll, as reported via The Korea Times, 60 percent of South Koreans want the country to develop its own nuclear weapons.
The growing threats from North Korea have also bolstered Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s bid to amend the country’s pacifist constitution.
While both South Korea and Japan are barred from building nuclear weapons due to their membership of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, both countries have both the technological capability of producing thousands of missiles quickly.
“If we decide to stand on our own feet and put our resources together, we can build nuclear weapons in six months,” Suh Kune-yull, a professor of nuclear engineering at Seoul National University, told the Times. “The question is whether the president has the political will.”
US Defence Secretary James Mattis has warned the threat of a nuclear missile attack by North Korea is accelerating, and said Donald Trump’s administration would never accept a nuclear North Korea.
However, Donald Trump fuelled the region’s desire to militarise while he was on the campaign trail, saying neither Japan or South Korea were paying the US enough for the protection it provides. He also suggested that both countries should obtain their own nuclear weapons as a defence.
Experts have warned for decades about the threat posed by nuclear proliferation in East Asia, warning that a nuclear-armed Japan or South Korea risks escalating any potential low-level military conflict with North Korea to catastrophic levels, as well as undermining their relationship with the US.
According to the Times report, South Korea and Japan aren’t the only countries vying to get a hold of nuclear weapons. Australia, Burma, Taiwan and Vietnam are all considering arming themselves against a rogue North Korean state.