Since the land-based nuclear weapons deployed to South Korea until 1991 were mostly destroyed after their withdrawal, the redeployment of tactical nuclear weapons to the region would probably be in the form of U.S. fighter aircraft equipped with nuclear bombs. Such a deployment would be no more credible or effective than our B-2 stealth bomber aircraft, which can already deliver the same munitions in greater quantities and, launched from Missouri or Guam, wouldn’t be vulnerable to pre-emptive attack like fighter aircraft stationed near a potential conflict.
In addition to this unnecessary redundancy, the redeployment of tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea would destabilize the region and undermine diplomatic efforts to persuade North Korea to halt its own nuclear program. China and Russia would feel threatened by the deployment of American nuclear weapons on Asian soil and might consider reciprocal deployments of their own tactical nuclear forces. For good reason, nuclear weapons deployments have a way of sparking dangerous diplomatic crises. A push to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Asia could put us on a path toward a Cuban Missile Crisis of our time. And our Japanese, Australian, and New Zealand allies in the Asia-Pacific would oppose such a U.S. policy, complicating security partnerships that are critical to maintaining regional stability.
Members of Congress should more often take to heart that no matter the short term political expedience of talking tough – what they say and do has serious diplomatic and national security implications. Even if the Senate strips this reckless language from the bill before it’s sent to the president’s desk for his signature, much of the damage has already been done in alarmed Asian media reports portraying the U.S. Congress as rash and belligerent while our diplomats scramble to do damage control.
The inclusion of this provision in the defense bill is the camel’s nose under the tent for a future push to implement the policy. That is why Mitt Romney should clarify immediately that he rejects the approach advanced by House Republicans.
As we endeavor to reduce the role of nuclear weapons, and with tensions already rising in the Asia-Pacific, the proposal to redeploy American tactical nuclear weapons to Asian soil is ill considered and reflects poorly upon this country’s Congress.
U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson sits on the House Armed Services and Judiciary committees. Jonathan Ossoff serves as Johnson’s senior adviser for defense and foreign affairs.