N.Korea Comes Closer to Triggering Nuclear Arms Race

      May 14, 2012 13:50

      The U.S. House Armed Services Committee on Thursday adopted an amendment that urges the Obama administration to redeploy tactical nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula. The amendment to the defense authorization bill, passed by a vote of 32-26, supports "steps to…redeploy tactical nuclear weapons to the Western Pacific region."

      A tactical nuclear weapon is a small warhead with a 10-20 kiloton explosive yield that can be mounted on artillery shells or short-range missiles to be used on a battlefield, as opposed to strategic nuclear weapons that are designed to annihilate huge populations. The U.S. Forces Korea used to have around 200 tactical nuclear weapons, but all of them were withdrawn following former President Roh Tae-woo's decision in 1991 to denuclearize Korea. The move was designed to persuade North Korea, which was under suspicion at that time of developing nuclear arms, to scrap those attempts.

      But over the ensuing 20 years, North Korea has developed nuclear weapons and is gearing up to conduct its third nuclear test. There have been calls within South Korea over the years to either develop a home-grown nuclear bomb or at least have U.S. troops redeploy tactical nuclear weapons. But Washington wanted to keep the Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons. Only in early 2011 did Gary Samore, the White House special assistant on arms control and weapons of mass destruction, say the U.S. would be willing to redeploy tactical nuclear weapons here if Seoul wanted it.

      In Japan, Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto and Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara are the two most popular candidates for the top government post for publicly insisting on Japan's right to possess nuclear weapons. There is even talk that the two politicians may join hands to form a party. In the past, Japanese politicians who made such claims were treated as lunatics, but thanks to North Korea's nuclear weapons program, such figures are now at the center of attention.

      Maybe North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is too politically naïve to realize the danger of his father's nuclear legacy. But China must know how serious it would be if the U.S. redeploys nuclear weapons here and Japan pushes to develop its own nukes. How much longer will Beijing continue to tacitly approve Kim Jong-un's plans to conduct a third nuclear test?

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