South Korea’s defense and foreign affairs ministers visited Washington last week for meetings with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. The bilateral talks provided constructive support for the enduring alliance, despite recent counterproductive actions by members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
A dangerous provision that was slipped into the annual defense spending bill by House Republicans requires the Obama administration to consider deploying tactical nuclear weapons to Asia to “deter” North Korea. It’s a classic example of Congressional chest-thumping, intended to present a facade of toughness and savvy despite its imprudence.
The committee’s passage of the Dr. Strangelove-esque language provoked an immediate and sharply negative reaction from the South Korean government and forced our State Department to clarify that no redeployment of tactical nuclear weapons to the Korean Peninsula is under consideration.
The United States withdrew tactical nuclear weapons from South Korea in 1991 under President George H.W. Bush’s Presidential Nuclear Initiatives, when the United States and South Korea determined that the weapons no longer served a military purpose and would impede efforts to secure a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.
Today, South Korean political and military leadership, the U.S. military, and the U.S. State Department are united in their view that the redeployment of those weapons would be counterproductive and unnecessary. American ballistic missile submarines and nuclear-capable bombers already provide the needed deterrent capability, in the improbable event the president would decide to use it. In addition to those nuclear forces, our advanced conventional forces deployed on the Korean Peninsula and throughout the region underscore the credibility of our security assurances.
Gen. Walter Sharp, recently retired commander of U.S. Forces Korea, said last year: “I don’t believe tactical nuclear weapons need to return to the Republic of Korea. What the U.S. has guaranteed through extended deterrence, which includes the nuclear umbrella, has the sufficient capabilities…from stocks in different places around the world.”