The Republican-led US House of Representatives expressed support on Friday for deploying tactical nuclear weapons to East Asia as a deterrent to an “increasingly belligerent” North Korea.
Lawmakers added the measure to a sweeping defense authorization bill for the coming fiscal year, saying the US Congress “encourages ... such steps to deploy additional conventional forces of the United States and redeploy tactical nuclear weapons to the Western Pacific region.”
The US withdrew its nuclear weapons from South Korea more than 20 years ago, and officially does not have nuclear weapons in Japan.
The bill, should it pass, would place no requirements on the Pentagon to deploy nuclear weapons near North Korea, but it reflects Republicans’ desire for a sharper position by US President Barack Obama against Pyongyang and its nuclear program.
Democratic lawmakers opposing the measure said that sending tactical nuclear weapons to East Asia, and in particular the Korean Peninsula, would “greatly imperil the security of the region.”
US Representative Hank -Johnson, a Democrat, introduced an amendment saying such a deployment to South Korea would “destabilize” the region, but it was rejected 160-261.
The National Defense Authorization Act is not likely to be signed into law in its current form. Obama has threatened to veto it for going over budget and failing to address his new military strategy.
US Representative Adam Smith, the ranking Democrat on the US House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, accused Republicans of using unnecessarily “confrontational language” on North Korea, saying the proposed nuclear deployment “would be dangerous and reckless and could destabilize the entire region.”
US Representative Rick Larsen blasted his colleagues for adopting an amendment supporting an “irresponsible move [that] would greatly imperil the security of the region.”
“Instead of acting as a deterrent to North Korea, placing tactical nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula will only embolden the [North Korean leader] Kim Jong-un regime to develop their nuclear capabilities faster,” he said.
The bill now moves to the US Senate.