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South Korea to Take Lead Role in Counterproliferation Program

South Korea is expected to take a more prominent role in a U.S.-led international effort that seeks to prevent the trafficking of weapons of mass destruction, a decision that is likely to ratchet up tensions with North Korea, the Korea Herald reported yesterday (see GSN, Oct. 14).

Leading nations in the Proliferation Security Initiative have agreed to include Seoul as an Operational Experts Group member. The move is expected to be formalized in early November at the next OEG conference in Japan, an unidentified diplomatic source in South Korea said.

The 20-state Operational Experts Group serves as the leadership body for the counterproliferation program, which has more than 90 member nations.

South Korea joined the initiative in May 2009 after Pyongyang carried out its second nuclear test. Earlier this month, the South hosted a large-scale multinational maritime exercise that focused on the interdiction of ships suspected of carrying WMD materials. The sea drill was the first time South Korea participated in a PSI exercise; Seoul previously had abstained from active participation out of concern it would aggravate Pyongyang.

By joining the OEG body, South Korea will have an enhanced ability to "monitor illegal weapons trade and related activities in North Korea," the source said.

Washington established the program in 2003 after a cargo of 15 Scud missiles discovered on a North Korean ship could not be confiscated because of an absence of international laws that would have allowed their seizure, the Herald reported. Program members agree that third-party vessels can be boarded in international waters if they are suspected of carrying unconventional weapons materials.

Opponents of the initiative, including China, Iran and North Korea, assert the mission of interdicting ships could constitute a breach of a vessel's globally recognized right to sail unmolested in international waters. North Korea also asserts the initiative is part of a planned war campaign by the United States (Shin Hae-in, Korea Herald, Oct. 25).

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Country Profile

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South Korea

This article provides an overview of South Korea’s historical and current policies relating to nuclear, chemical, biological and missile proliferation.

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