More Nukes Are Not the Answer
Just because there is a way to quit a treaty, it doesn’t follow that it is the right or smart thing to do.
The final option on the nuclear continuum is the one taken by the British and French during the Cold War: the development of an independent nuclear arsenal. This option would maximize deterrence on the Korean Peninsula because Pyongyang would understand that Seoul would retaliate in the event of any North Korean use of nuclear weapons against the South. A 2023 poll found that over 70 percent of South Koreans favor possessing an independent nuclear arsenal.
Importantly, this option is legal under the NPT. The treaty declares that any member can withdraw if “extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of this Treaty, have jeopardized the supreme interests of its country.” The threat from North Korea easily clears the bar for Seoul’s legal withdrawal from the treaty.
It is true that South Korea could legally withdraw from the NPT as the treaty allows, but that would not justify the decision to develop nuclear weapons. Like any treaty, the NPT leaves open the possibility of quitting if a state decides that the treaty is no longer in its interests. Just because there is a way to quit a treaty, it doesn’t follow that it is the right or smart thing to do.