South Korea is seeking permission from the United States to develop ballistic missiles with a traveling distance that would put the whole of North Korea within attack range, the Xinhua News Agency reported on Wednesday (see GSN, March 14).
South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin recently informed lawmakers that Seoul and the United States have held working-level talks on amending a bilateral missile technology trade agreement that prohibits the South from producing ballistics missiles with a range greater than 186 miles or that can carry a bomb heavier than 1,100 pounds.
"We are holding technical negotiations over extending the missile range so that it would cover the whole of the Korean Peninsula," Kim told lawmakers.
A special exception would also need to be made to allow South Korea to acquire the unmanned Global Hawk aircraft, which due to its significant flight range falls under an international nonproliferation pact that covers WMD-ready systems.
The talks fall against a backdrop of tense inter-Korean relations (see related GSN story, today). Seoul has not forgiven the North for its assumed torpedoing last year of a South Korean warship nor its shelling of a populated island. The two attacks killed 50 people; Pyongyang has refused to apologize for either incident. Seoul has vowed to respond harshly to future strikes from the North.
South Korea since 2001 has been a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime.
As part of efforts to respond to North Korean strikes without violating international missile technology regulations, South Korea has developed cruise missiles that can travel 932 miles. The missiles stay closer to the ground than ballistic systems and are not as fast.
North Korea is understood to already possess in excess of 800 ballistic missiles, including approximately 600 short-range Scud missiles and some 200 Rodong missiles that can travel as far as 808 miles, according to previous reports. The Stalinist state has an intermediate-range ballistic missile that can hit targets as far away as the U.S. military base on the island of Guam, the South Korean Defense Ministry said in its most recent white paper.
Senior U.S. defense officials believe North Korea could field an ICBM capable of striking the continental United States within half a decade (Xinhua News Agency, Sept. 21).