The Obama administration is debating a declaration of no first use of nuclear weapons. Some Asia specialists fear the resulting impact on North Korea. But dealing with Pyongyang is a reason for Washington to encourage its ally South Korea to go nuclear.
Washington has possessed nuclear weapons for more than 70 years. No one doubts that the United States would use nukes in its own defense.
However, since then, Washington has extended a so-called “nuclear umbrella” over many of its non-nuclear allies. For instance, the United States long has threatened to use nuclear weapons in its NATO allies’ defense, though the precise circumstances under which the United States would act were not clear.
Northeast Asia is the region where nuclear threats seem greatest. Japan and South Korea are thought to be snuggled beneath America’s nuclear umbrella, which has discouraged both from acquiring their own weapons.