South Korea’s Yoon Presses NATO Members to Deter North’s Nuclear Ambitions

July 10, 2023

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said Monday he’ll press NATO members to strengthen their resolve against the North’s nuclear ambitions at this week’s summit. 

Though South Korea is not one of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s 31 member nations, Yoon plans to attend the annual two-day NATO Summit, just as he did last year. 

“Now is the time to clearly demonstrate that the international community’s determination to deter North Korea’s nuclear weapons program is stronger than North Korea’s desire to develop nuclear weapons,” said Yoon.

South Korea is coping with a number of security challenges, including North Korea’s nuclear program as well as heightened tensions between the U.S. and China.

Yoon’s press for cooperation against what he calls North Korea’s “illegal acts” has taken on a new urgency following an unprecedented number of more than 100 nuclear-capable missile tests last year. However, whether Pyongyang possesses functioning nuclear weapons remains up for debate. 

Even so, a South Korean government estimate from 2018 asserted that North Korea had already obtained by that time roughly 60 nuclear warheads, and some experts estimate that Pyongyang has the capability to add six to 18 new warheads each year.

Seoul currently benefits from the protection of the United States’ “nuclear umbrella” as its main deterrent against attacks from Pyongyang, though in recent months both South Korea and Japan have strengthened their military postures in response to threats from North Korea as well as China’s rising influence in the region.

In an address to Congress in April, Yoon said, “We need to speed up U.S., Korea, Japan trilateral security power operations to counter increasing North Korean nuclear threat,” adding that Seoul would keep open the door for dialogue with Pyongyang and encourage any efforts by the North to end its provocations and “take the right path.” 

In December the Pentagon formally launched a space force unit at South Korea’s Osan Air Base that was expected to allow the U.S. military to better monitor rival nations North Korea, China and Russia.

PHOTO: Yoon at 2022 NATO Summit in Madrid, Spain

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