South Korea seems primed to get their own nuclear deterrent (tip to the editorial and analysis from the Weekly Standard):
The U.S. has passed the buck for taming North Korea to China, and China is doing nothing. Seoul now faces a real need for public discussion of the development of its own nuclear weapons.
If the public wants the country to arm itself with nuclear weapons, the government will simply have to scrap a joint declaration from 1991 to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula and initiate talks with the U.S. to obtain the right to enrich uranium and reprocess its own spent nuclear fuel rods.
It will require delicate handling. If Seoul is too aggressive in pushing ahead with its own nuclear program, it could alienate the U.S. and face international sanctions.
Ponder that. South Korea is worried--after the unmentioned Iran deal that shoved massive amounts of cash to Iran in exchange for, at best, a ten to fifteen year pause in Iran's drive for nuclear weapons (and I don't think it will achieve that)--that their response to a North Korea arming up with nukes by getting their own nukes for deterrence will inspire us to bury South Korea with sanctions.
Perhaps South Korea should ramp up the "Death to America!" rallies and start kidnapping American citizens to properly incentivize America to cooperate with Seoul, eh?
But the basic motive for South Korea is coming true. If South Korea can't count on America to prevent Axis of Evil states from going nuclear, can they count on America to deter the use of those nuclear weapons? When that puts our people at risk for a nuclear strike?
The other thing that might happen if North Korea gets the ability to strike our soil with nukes is that our allies will lose the confidence that we will stand with them if North Korea nukes them. If North Korea nukes South Korea or Japan and still retains nuclear weapons that can hit America, would be retaliate for the strikes on South Korea or Japan and risk North Korea penetrating our thin missile defenses to attack us?
Even if we absolutely would, how sure can South Korea or Japan be that we would?
So if our allies lose faith in our willingness to stand with them in the face of a nuclear North Korea, our allies gain an incentive to acquire nuclear weapons themselves so that they have a deterrence against North Korean nukes.
Our nuclear deterrence was a free benefit for us when North Korea couldn't hit American territory. Will it be as secure if North Korea can hit America?
Can South Korea risk that? They (if that influential paper's editorial is representative) don't think so:
Would China come to the rescue if the North launched a nuclear attack against South Korea? Would the U.S. step in to protect Seoul? Judging by Washington's inaction in the military crises in the Ukraine and Syria, it would probably respond only after Seoul has been turned into a pile of smoldering ashes.
But would we respond if we feared that North Korea would then strike us? Might we not just say, "Well, sorry about Seoul. But why add Seattle to the toll when nuking North Korea will hardly make them less wretched than they already are?"
And will we really be more ruthless in stopping an ally under threat from going nuclear than we have been with enemies seeking nukes?
I mean, what have we done so far? Deplored--again--one of North Korea's nuclear or missile tests!
What are President Obama and his team doing about this? Secretary of State John Kerry has denounced this weekend's test launch as -- you guessed it -- "unacceptable," calling it "a major provocation."
What, exactly, has it provoked? Well, along with provoking Kerry to to call it a provocation, the launch also provoked National Security Adviser Susan Rice to call it "a flagrant violation of multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions." UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, not to be outdone, called it "deeply deplorable." On Sunday the UN Security Council itself will hold an emergency meeting to discuss this latest violation. More words!
It would be funny if it wasn't so deadly serious to recall that President Obama received a Nobel Peace Prize for his potential on nuclear non-proliferation.
UPDATE: Yes, why would our close military ally accept restrictions on developing nuclear weapons technology more limiting than we granted that nutball regime that runs Iran?
Why yes, President Obama did in fact get a Nobel Peace Prize for his potential on nuclear proliferation. But I think the Nordic panel assumed it would be for limiting proliferation.