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Ex-Pentagon official says South Korea doesn't need nuclear submarines.

Written: 2023-11-25 14:47:51Updated: 2023-11-25 16:25:16

Ex-Pentagon official says South Korea doesn't need nuclear submarines.

Photo : YONHAP News

A former Pentagon official expressed his opposition against the idea of South Korea acquiring nuclear-powered submarines (SSNs) in an opinion piece on Friday. 

In the contribution piece carried by The Hill, a U.S. media outlet, Dov S. Zakheim cited high costs, operational realities and other challenges as the basis for his opposition. He served as undersecretary of defense from 2001 to 2004.

The debate on whether South Korea should possess nuclear-powered submarines has gained traction in recent years as North Korea doubles down on its pursuit of stronger naval capabilities, including underwater attack drones and submarine-launched ballistic missiles. But a Seoul-Washington nuclear pact limits the use of nuclear materials for military purposes.

Zakheim said that it was only in April that President Yoon Suk Yeol and U.S. President Joe Biden reached an agreement on the establishment of the Nuclear Consultative Group and the U.S.' pledge for an enhanced American nuclear presence around the Korean Peninsula.

He said in the piece that if Seoul attempts to evade its long-standing commitment to Washington to concentrate all its nuclear-related efforts solely for civilian purposes, it would undermine the spirit of the Biden-Yoon agreement and create a serious split between the two countries. 

He pointed out that if Seoul were to have a new submarine program, it would have to build at least three vessels to ensure one boat operates on station at all times. He added  three submarines are likely to cost more than 10 billion U.S. dollars, including logistics support.

He said it is not at all clear that Seoul can afford to increase its already significant defense spending by an additional tens of billions of dollars.

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