SEOUL — At the same time the Carter administration was mulling options to
pull U.S. forces from South Korea in the late 1970s, U.S. officials were
studying the use of nuclear weapons to repel a possible
North Korean invasion, recently unclassified documents show.
According to a lengthy study funded by the U.S. Nuclear Defense Agency —
obtained last week under a Freedom of Information Act request by the Nautilus
Institute for Security and Sustainability — the options amounted to using 30
airburst nuclear weapons on invading armor units.
"Vulnerability of North Korean Forces, Vol. I: Evaluation of Vulnerability of
North Korean Divisions to Tactical Nuclear Weapons" found that use of tactical
nuclear weapons on the battlefield would be effective against North Korean
armor units in a scenario where they penetrated 15 miles south of the
Demilitarized Zone, just nine miles north of Seoul.
"While this analysis is focused upon attacks against acquired targets, some
consideration is also given to the use of deduced targeting against suspected
enemy positions or terrain targets," the 1978 report read.
"The evaluation of NK division vulnerability centers on individual enemy
targets or units deployed on the terrain, the capability of allied forces to
acquire these targets, the damage achieved against these targets from an
appropriate combination of weapons effects, and the significance of this damage
on the performance of combat missions."
The U.S. military acknowledged keeping nuclear weapons on the Korean
peninsula until an October 1991 decision to withdraw them as part of a
"worldwide drawdown" of tactical nuclear weapons, according to the National
A previous study released by Nautilus detailed delivery systems of the former
U.S. nuclear force in South Korea; an upcoming release will focus on old
military exercises involving nuclear-tipped artillery, the group said.
"These documents suggest that North Koreans may have deeply entrenched
nuclear threat perceptions that drive their own strategy to acquire nuclear
weapons today," Nautilus researchers said.
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