According to declassified and other US government documents, some released on the 60th-anniversary of the Korean War, the United States has repeatedly pondered the use of nuclear weapons against North Korea.
• The United States introduced nuclear weapons to the Korean peninsula as early as 1950.
• During the Korean War, US president Harry Truman announced that the use of nuclear weapons was under active consideration; US Air Force bombers flew nuclear rehearsal runs over Pyongyang; and US commander General Douglas MacArthur planned to drop 30 to 50 atomic bombs across the northern neck of the Korean peninsula to block Chinese intervention.
• In the late 1960s, nuclear-armed US warplanes were maintained on 15-minute alert to strike North Korea.
• In 1975, US defense secretary James Schlesinger acknowledged for the first time that US nuclear weapons were deployed in South Korea. Addressing the North Koreans, he warned, “I do not think it would be wise to test (US) reactions.”
• In February 1993, Lee Butler, head of the US Strategic Command, announced the United States was retargeting hydrogen bombs aimed at the old USSR on North Korea (and other targets.) One month later, North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.
• On July 22, 1993, US president Bill Clinton said if North Korea developed and used nuclear weapons “we would quickly and overwhelmingly retaliate. It would mean the end of their country as we know it.”
• In 1995, Colin Powell, who had served as chairman of the US joints chiefs of staff and would later serve as US secretary of state, warned the North Koreans that the United States had the means to turn their country into “a charcoal briquette.”
• Following North Korea’s first nuclear test on October 9, 2006, US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice reminded North Korea that “the United States has the will and the capability to meet the full range—and I underscore full range of its deterrent and security commitments to Japan.”
• In April 2010, then US defense secretary Leon Panetta refused to rule out a US nuclear attack on North Korea, saying, “all options are on the table.”
• On February 13, 2013, Panetta described North Korea as “a threat to the United States, to regional stability, and to global security.” He added: “Make no mistake. The US military will take all necessary steps to meet our security commitments to the Republic of Korea and to our regional allies.”
As the North Koreans put it, “no nation in the world has been exposed to the nuclear threat so directly and for so long as the Koreans. … For over half a century since early in the 1950s, the US has turned South Korea into the biggest nuclear arsenal in the Far East, gravely threatening the DPRK through ceaseless maneuvers for a nuclear war. It has worked hard to deprive the DPRK of its sovereignty and its right to exist and develop….thereby doing tremendous damage to its socialist economic construction and the improvement of the standard of people’s living.”
[Excerpt of article by Stephen Gowans]