South Korea own nuclear weapons North Korea US
A report said Tuesday that South Korea has been debating if it should develop its own nuclear weapons instead of depending on U.S. assistance. In this photo, people watch a news report on North Korea's first hydrogen bomb test at a railroad station in Seoul, Jan. 6, 2016. Getty Images/AFP/Jung Yeon-Je

South Korea has been debating whether the country should develop its own nuclear weapons, despite being assured by the United States that its “nuclear umbrella” would be extended to Seoul, Congressional Research Service (CRS) said Tuesday, according to South Korea's Yonhap News Agency. The latest debate has been ongoing amid several provocations from North Korea, which has recently conducted nuclear and missile tests.

The CRS report on U.S.-South Korea relations said that such a move could lead to a series of negative consequences, including sanctions on Seoul and a nuclear arms race in the Korean Peninsula. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has, on his part, called to develop more nuclear weapons to boost the country’s defense capabilities despite stringent sanctions against the reclusive nation.

“In the wake of North Korea's recent nuclear weapon test and satellite launch, South Korea has re-engaged in a debate about developing its own nuclear weapons capability, notwithstanding Seoul's reliance on the U.S. nuclear 'umbrella,'” CRS, the public policy research arm of the U.S. Congress, said in the report.

The think tank also noted that after North Korea’s third nuclear test in 2013, there was a growing support for the idea that Seoul should develop its indigenous nuclear capability because there was a “doubt that the United States would use its nuclear weapons to protect South Korea.”

The report said, according to Yonhap: “Although U.S. policymakers have reiterated their 'ironclad commitment' to defend South Korea and have publicized B-52 and B-2 long-range bomber flights over the Korean Peninsula, some South Koreans have pointed to the failure of the United States and others to stanch Pyongyang's growing nuclear capability as justification for Seoul to pursue its own nuclear arsenal.”

North Korea's latest nuclear and missile tests have reignited calls from leading members of South Korea's ruling party, who said that it did not make sense to rely on Washington’s “nuclear umbrella” while Pyongyang strengthened its nuclear presence. However, Seoul has previously said that developing its own nuclear weapons would run against the principle of a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.

Meanwhile, the U.S. cyber commander said Tuesday that North Korea also has been increasing its capabilities in the cyber domain and his command was watching the country “more closely,” Yonhap said in another report.

“Iran and North Korea represent lesser but still serious challenges to U.S. interests. Although both states have been more restrained in this last year in terms of cyber activity directed against us, they remain quite active and are steadily improving their capabilities,” Adm. Michael S. Rogers said, according to Yonhap. “Both of these nations have encouraged malicious cyber activity against the United States and their neighbors, but they currently devote the bulk of their resources and effort to working against their neighbors.”

North Korea is believed to have conducted a massive hack into Sony Pictures in late 2014 and reports at the time said that it was conducted in retaliation to an American comedy film, “The Interview,” that ridiculed the North Korean leader. North Korea had denied it played any role in the cyberattack.