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South Korea Hopeful U.S. Will Allow Longer-Range Ballistic Missiles

The South Korean government is somewhat hopeful the United States will permit it to manufacture ballistic missiles with longer ranges than those now permitted under a 2001 bilateral agreement, the Korea Herald reported on Wednesday (see GSN, May 16).

The matter is anticipated to be raised during meetings next month between the defense and foreign policy chiefs from Seoul and Washington, according to sources in the South Korean capital.

"The government is cautiously optimistic about the possibility of the allies reaching an agreement to extend the range," an anonymous government insider said in an interview with the Herald. "The issue for now is how much longer we can extend the range."

Hoping to dissuade longtime foe North Korea from new armed hostilities, South Korea wants permission to manufacture high-altitude missiles that can strike anywhere in the North. Under the existing agreement, Seoul may not develop ballistic missiles with ranges farther than 186 miles or that can deliver explosive payloads heavier than 1,100 pounds.

"There is still uncertainty as the U.S. government still appears split over it," the source said. "It has yet to finalize its direction on this issue."

Former Defense Undersecretary Michele Flournoy recently told the Yonhap News Agency that other deterrence measures should be looked at before the South begins to manufacture improved ballistic missiles.

Seoul is understood to be pressing the matter now as it is concerned the Obama administration will have less room to maneuver on the issue as November presidential voting grows closer.

Washington is wary of permitting South Korea to develop longer-range ballistic missiles as such a move is likely to antagonize North Korea. However, there are differing views inside the Obama administration. The Pentagon is supportive of South Korea gaining new missile capabilities that can support allied forces while the State Department is concerned it would negatively impact nonproliferation objectives, according to the newspaper.

For South Korea to have the ability to strike every key armed forces asset in the North, it would need missiles that can travel a minimum of 497 miles, according to defense analysts.

"South Korea is a sovereign nation. We don’t need to have such a restriction on our sovereign right (of defense)," Chung-Ang University international studies academic Kim Tae-hyun asserted.

The right to manufacture more capable missiles and actually building and deploying them are two different matters, according to Kim. "(After revising the pact to allow South Korea to develop longer-range missiles), we can have a strategic option over whether to develop or deploy them. This can be our means to fend off North Korea's provocations."

"Beyond political, diplomatic logic, what is crucial is to secure adequate missile technology, which is more important than getting combat fighter jets," Korea Defense and Security Forum senior research fellow Yang Uk said. 

South Korea must have the ability to defend itself against North Korean weapons of mass destruction, Korea Institute for Defense Analyses researcher Shin Beom-chul said. "We need to have both sufficient defense and offense capabilities. When there are signs of attacks using WMDs, we need to rapidly respond to them."

The South's existing cruise missiles, which do not have mandated range restrictions, "are slow and lacking the rapid strike abilities," he said (Song Sang-ho, Korea Herald, May 16).

Note to our Readers

GSN ceased publication on July 31, 2014. Its articles and daily issues will remain archived and available on NTI’s website.

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