A history of US nuclear weapons in South Korea

By Hans M. Kristensen, Robert S. Norris | November 2, 2017

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Nuclear Notebook: How many nuclear weapons does the U.S. have in South Korea?

During the Cold War, the United States deployed nuclear weapons in South Korea continuously for 33 years, from 1958 to 1991. The South Korean-based nuclear arsenal peaked at an all-time high of approximately 950 warheads in 1967. Since the last US nuclear weapons were withdrawn from South Korea in 1991, the United States has protected South Korea and Japan under a “nuclear umbrella” using nuclear bombers and submarines based elsewhere. While defense hawks in Seoul and Washington have, in 2017, called for the United States to redeploy tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea, the authors argue against this idea. Doing so, they say, would provide no resolution of the crisis over North Korea’s nuclear weapons and would likely increase nuclear risks. Redeployment would also have serious implications for broader regional issues because it would likely be seen by China and Russia as further undermining their security.

North Korea’s six nuclear tests and progress developing a missile force have triggered calls for the United States to redeploy tactical nuclear weapons – sometimes known as “battlefield” or “theater” nuclear weapons – to South Korea. While we have heard such calls before, they are getting louder as the Trump administration nears completion of its Nuclear Posture Review. They come from defense hawks in both Washington and Seoul…

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The Nuclear Notebook is researched and written by Hans M. Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project with the Federation of American Scientists and Robert S. Norris, a senior fellow with the FAS. The Nuclear Notebook column has been published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists since 1987. The Nuclear Notebook column has been published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists since 1987.


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