The JoongAng | Kim Myung-ja President, The Seoul Forum for International Affairs; President Emeritus, The Korean Federation of Science and Technology Societies; Former Minister of Environment;
The nuclear threat has been reenacted since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. U.S. President Joe Biden even used the expression "Armageddon," calling it the highest nuclear threat since the Cuban missile crisis. At the G20 summit last month, the leaders of the U.S. and China agreed to oppose the threat of atomic weapons in Ukraine. That does not mean that the nuclear crisis has been resolved. Foreign Affairs magazine predicted China would use nuclear weapons if they invaded Taiwan. China said, “They would not use nuclear weapons on other countries first,” but also said Taiwan would be excluded from the promise because it is part of its own country.
North Korea fired 27 times of short-range ballistic missiles by October this year alone. In May and November, they even fired ICBMs. Now, the seventh nuclear test seems to be a given. As the situation becomes unusual, there are even calls for withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT, effective since 1970 and 191 member countries as of 2022), along with NATO-style nuclear sharing, strengthening nuclear umbrellas, and relocating tactical atomic weapons among Korean people.
The practical use of nuclear power stems from Einstein's 1905 equation E=mc². On all occasions in 1938, when the 2nd world war clouds were circulating, Germany's Otto Han and Fritz Strassman succeeded in the fission reaction of uranium-235. But it was merely science fiction at the time. Because 99.3% of natural uranium is uranium-238, and 0.7% is uranium-235, scientists did not know how to separate uranium-235, which causes fission, nor did they know the critical mass at which the fission chain reaction begins to occur. Otto Frisch and Rudolph Peierls of the United Kingdom discovered this information in 1940 and made the British MAUD Commission have primary data on the manufacture of atomic bombs. However, the UK couldn’t build a manufacturing plant on the mainland site within the range of the German rocket V-2. Thus, the UK government hands over the MAUD report to the US authority.
On December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombardment of Pearl Harbor led to the full-scale participation of the United States and launched code name "The Manhattan Project.” Why on earth have scientists developed this horrible weapon? It resulted from the logic that atomic bombs were needed to end the war. After Germany's surrender, there was an anti-bombardment movement in the scientific community. However, the Pentagon decides to ‘drop on Japan without prior warning’ to end the war as soon as possible. Shocked by the devastation of the bombardment, Robert Oppenheimer, senior science administrator at the Manhattan Project, said, "We knew what sin was," and NBC Radio broadcast, "We created Frankenstein."
The U.S.-Soviet nuclear arms race marred the Cold War era from the end of the 1940s. In the early 1950s, the U.S. and the Soviet Union competed for hydrogen bomb development. In 1957, the United Kingdom joined the ‘nuclear club’ due to the success of hydrogen bomb tests, and the world entered the era of a ‘Balance of Terror.’ From July 1945 to 2016, more than 2,000 nuclear tests were conducted by the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, and North Korea. The United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, China, and France also have hydrogen bombs. North Korea is the only country that has conducted nuclear tests in the 21st century. In 2016, they announced the fourth hydrogen bomb experiment.
It is not that there have been no attempts to escape the nuclear threat toward humanity. On Christmas Day in 1954, Sir Bertrand Russell proposed a call to an international conference to prevent a nuclear war crisis on the ‘Danger of Humanity’ broadcast. As Einstein responded, the "Russell-Einstein Declaration" was issued to dismantle nuclear weapons. In September 1991, President George H. W. Bush unilaterally declared the withdrawal and dismantlement of globally deployed tactical atomic arms, and Communist Party Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev responded. But that was it.
In 2021, the book "Nuclear Folly," by Harvard University professor Sergio Flohy analyzed that Kennedy and Khrushchev avoided nuclear war in 1962. They feared the end of nuclear war because they were a generation who experienced Hiroshima and Nagasaki and realized the destructive power process with hydrogen bomb tests. Even in the Korean War, atomic bombs were almost dropped. President Truman said at a press conference in November 1950 that he was considering using nuclear bombs and deployed nine atomic bombs at the U.S. Guam base in April of the following year. However, he made a decision otherwise. Truman's grandson testified that his grandfather "was shocked by the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, so he decided not to use atomic bombs in the Korean War" (2015). In strategical view, it is interpreted that the burden of avoiding the spread of the Korean War to World War III and dropping nuclear bombs one after another into Asia was at play.
The international community has failed to resolve the nuclear threat. When international organizations are unable to manage nuclear threats, the response to nuclear threats at the one-state level is complex. The nuclear weapons-related option is not an issue that is acceptable as any country claims it. It would not be accepted as an exception to persuade Korea that its nuclear possession is aimed at protecting the liberal international order. The first and second North Korean nuclear crises were emergencies caused by North Korea's declaration of withdrawal from the NPT in March 1993 and January 2003. It is imperative to develop a solid integrated deterrence policy by reinforcing the means of suppressing expansion between South Korea and the U.S. in compliance with the international order of NPT.