Tactical nuclear weapons
Redeployment to threaten peace and stability
A U.S. congressional committee’s passage last week of an amendment on redeploying tactical nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula is creating subtle ripples both at home and abroad as North Korea is poised to conduct a third nuclear test.
The U.S. House Armed Services Committee passed an amendment to the 2013 defense bill Thursday that calls for the reintroduction of tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea. The bill also requires Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to submit a report on the feasibility and logistics of redeploying such weapons.
Apparently, Republicans want to send a clear message that China should act decisively to make North Korea stop its nuclear weapons development. The North carried out two underground nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009 and is allegedly preparing for a third.
For now, the possibility that the sensitive weapons will be redeployed here appears slim. The Obama administration is clearly negative on the redeployment, backing a nuclear-free peninsula. Even if the bill passes the House, the Democrats-controlled Senate is certain to vote it down.
South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense also opposes redeployment, saying efforts by Seoul and Washington to force North Korea to halt its nuclear weapons development won’t be justified.
But the situation can change completely if the Republican Party wins the presidential election in November. In that scenario, the 1992 declaration on nuclear-free Korean Peninsula will be nullified and the role of the six-party talks on North Korea’s denuclearization will be questioned.
The amendment is viewed as leverage the U.S. can use in efforts to pressure China to get North Korea to give up nuclear weapons. U.S. officials have been complaining about Beijing’s lukewarm attitude toward North Korean provocations.
Some experts see the amendment as part of the Republicans’ campaign strategy in the run-up to the presidential poll. That is, the Republican Party is seeking to get tough with North Korea in an effort to criticize Obama’s foreign policy in the midst of rising conservatism.
Domestically, the conservative minor opposition Liberty Forward Party urged the government to consider redeployment as a way to counter North Korea’s nuclear and conventional missile threats. Rep. Chung Mong-joon, one of the ruling Saenuri Party’s presidential contenders, also raised the issue, noting that the North is a de-facto nuclear power and redeploying tactical nuclear weapons is the only way to change Pyongyang’s approach toward Seoul.
North Korea, for its part, should know that its missile and nuclear weapons programs have triggered the recent debate on redeploying tactical nukes on the peninsula. At a time when most experts believe that the North won’t give up its nuclear weapons program, it might be absurd just to wait for the six-way denuclearization talks to resume.
Nonetheless, redeploying nuclear weapons now makes little sense because it could threaten peace and stability on the peninsula. Rather, it would be reasonable to resort to the six-party talks with patience.