As President Trump prepares for a possible meeting with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, many American are raising warnings that North Korea has walked away from previous arms agreements. But those skeptics should remember that it was the United States, in 1958, that broke the 1953 Korean Armistice Agreement, when the Eisenhower administration sent the first atomic weapons into South Korea.
By the mid-1960s, the United States had more than 900 nuclear artillery shells, tactical bombs, surface-to-surface rockets and missiles, antiaircraft missiles and nuclear land mines in South Korea. Even nuclear projectiles for Davy Crockett
recoilless rifles were for several years based in South Korea.
The presence of those American weapons probably motivated the North Koreans to accelerate development of their own nuclear weapons. Although all the tactical United States nuclear weapons were removed from South Korea in 1991, the Seoul government still remains under the American nuclear umbrella — and the impetus for Kim Jong-un to have his own remains, as it did for his father and grandfather.
“The danger that U.S. nuclear weapons might be used against the North has been a central principle in its strategic thought and actions ever since,” Joseph S. Bermudez Jr.
, a North Korea expert, wrote in a 2015 paper.
The 1953 Korean armistice, which halted three years of bloody fighting, contained a provision that prohibited new types of weapons or ammunition to be introduced into the peninsula by either the United States-led United Nations forces, or the North Korean and Chinese forces. The armistice agreement even set up inspection teams from neutral nations to monitor incoming weapons shipments.
However, declassified United States documents describe in detail how the Eisenhower administration, worried about the cost of defending South Korea and the prowess of North Korea’s Chinese-backed military, agreed to send tactical nuclear weapons systems to South Korea.