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SEOUL, May 21 (Yonhap) -- South Korea has relied on the U.S. nuclear umbrella as insurance against North Korea's defiant pursuit of nuclear weapons, but the likelihood of a U.S. nuclear response is "more than adequate" deterrence against the North, a U.S. military professor said Tuesday.
Terence Roehrig, a professor of national security decision-making at the U.S. Naval War College, made the remarks at a forum on North Korea policy, as conservative South Korean politicians have argued that Seoul should arm itself with nuclear weapons to protect itself against Pyongyang's nuclear threat, particularly after the North's third nuclear test in February.
"The nuclear umbrella is only one part of the U.S. defense commitment to defend South Korea. The overall defense commitment is strong and credible, but the range of scenarios that would generate a U.S. nuclear response is very small," Roehrig told the forum, jointly organized by the U.S. embassy in Seoul and the East Asia Institute think tank.
"However, a certain conventional response and even a small likelihood of a nuclear response is more than adequate to deter North Korea," the professor said.
North Korea has conducted three nuclear tests since 2006 and successfully launched a long-range rocket late last year, raising the possibility of mounting nuclear bombs atop missiles aimed at Seoul, Tokyo or even parts of the U.S.
While the North's ability to accurately deliver a warhead is in doubt, South Korean officials have said Pyongyang could deploy a nuclear-armed missile within five years.
Diplomacy aimed at persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions has failed and South Korea has witnessed a failure of U.S. conventional deterrence against the North, particularly after Pyongyang's two military attacks in 2010.
North Korea has been blamed for torpedoing a South Korean warship that killed 46 sailors in March 2010. Eight months later, the North shelled a South Korean border island, killing two marines and two civilians.
The alliance between South Korea and the U.S. "is strong, and the United States will be there to defend South Korea if attacked," Roehrig said.
However, Roehrig said, "The number of scenarios where the United States might use nuclear weapons for that commitment is very small ... The U.S. response is far more likely to be conventional than nuclear."
The U.S. withdrew its tactical nuclear weapons from South Korea in 1991.
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