The U.S. House Armed Services Committee on Thursday passed an amendment to the 2013 defense bill that supports the redeployment of tactical nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula. A diplomat in Washington said the aim is to pressure China.
Washington is apparently hoping to send a clear message that Beijing needs to exercise its muscle and get North Korea to stop its nuclear weapons development unless it wants to see U.S. nukes on the Korean Peninsula.
The U.S. pulled its tactical nuclear weapons out of South Korea in September of 1991 after an agreement between Washington and Moscow to reduce such weapons and a pledge by former South Korean President Roh Tae-woo in November of that year to get rid of them. Roh's pledge prohibits both the possession of nuclear weapons by South Korea as well as the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel rods.
But in the U.S., the redeployment of tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea is gaining support since North Korea's launch of what it claims is a space rocket earlier this year and preparations for a third nuclear test.
Since Washington has no means of directly pressuring North Korea, the only realistic option is to seek Chinese cooperation, but Beijing is unwilling to twist Pyongyang's arm to get it to halt nuclear weapons development. The discovery that China exported parts which North Korea used to build transporters for intercontinental ballistic missiles has made Washington even more unhappy, as manifested in the amendment.
Although the Republicans led the passage of the amendment, some Democrats also apparently supported it.
But both U.S. and South Korean government officials say there is very little chance that the tactical nuclear weapons will really be redeployed here. First of all, the amendment is expected to be scrapped as it is reviewed by the Senate, which is controlled by the Democrats. Even if Congress passes it, the Obama administration is highly likely to veto it.
Some fear that redeployment would damage the legitimacy of efforts by Seoul and Washington to get North Korea to halt its nuclear weapons program.
White House and defense officials agree that there is no change in the Obama administration's policy of supporting denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and that there is no need to redeploy tactical nuclear weapons here. Seoul also believes there is nothing to be gained by redeployment. However, there are calls to leave the nuclear option open in order to pressure North Korea and China.