A defense bill approved by the Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives last week supports fielding tactical nuclear weapons in Asia as a counterweight to North Korea, Agence France-Presse reported (see GSN, May 15).
The House version of fiscal 2013 defense authorization legislation "encourages ... such steps to deploy additional conventional forces of the United States and redeploy tactical nuclear weapons to the Western Pacific region."
The United States removed all short-range nuclear weapons from South Korea in 1991 in support of an agreement between Seoul and Pyongyang on Korean Peninsula denuclearization. The U.S. Defense Department and South Korean government as recently as last week said there was no intention to return such armaments to the peninsula.
North Korea's ongoing nuclear weapons and ballistic missile activities are a continuing source of worry for Washington and its allies. The North last month unsuccessfully attempted to send a long-range rocket into space; the effort drew condemnation as a violation of U.N. Security Council prohibitions on ballistic missile flights by Pyongyang. Recent satellite images also indicate the regime is preparing to carry out its third underground nuclear blast (see related GSN story, today).
The House, in a 160-261 vote, dismissed an amendment from Representative Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) that argued that placing nuclear weapons in South Korea would "destabilize" the area.
Other Democrats also made their case against any such effort.
"Instead of acting as a deterrent to North Korea, placing tactical nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula will only embolden the Kim Jong-Un regime to develop their nuclear capabilities faster," said Representative Rick Larsen (D-Wash.).
The Senate Armed Services Committee this week is considering its version of the defense authorization bill. The White House said last week that President Obama could veto legislation that includes certain measures from the House bill, including restrictions on the implementation of the New START nuclear arms control accord with Russia (see GSN, May 16; Agence France-Presse/Spacedaily.com, May 18).