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S. Korea, US to strengthen missile defence vs N.K.

Publication Date : 16-06-2012


South Korea and the US agree to use a comprehensive missile defence strategy to deal with threats from North Korea’s long-range missiles


The defence and foreign ministers of South Korea and the US on Thursday agreed to seek measures to strengthen a comprehensive missile defence capability to deal with threats from North Korea’s long-range missiles.

During the so-called “two-plus-two” meeting in Washington, they also agreed to establish a consultation channel on cyber security, recognising the growing challenge posed by Pyongyang’s focus on enhancing electronic and cyber warfare tactics.

The second high-profile talks at the US State Department were attended by Seoul’s Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan, Defence Minister Kim Kwan-jin and their counterparts: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defence Secretary Leon Panetta.

The inaugural meeting was held in Seoul in July 2010 to send a warning to the North, which torpedoed South Korea’s warship Cheonan near the western maritime border in March of that year, killing 46 sailors.

Dismissing speculation that the bilateral missile cooperation is part of a move to put South Korea into a wider missile defence programme led by the US, Defence Minister Kim said the system fit for the terrain of the peninsula would be “low-tier” defence.

“It is different from the US (missile defence system),” he said.

The low-tier missile defence system tailored for South Korea is designed to intercept hostile missiles or combat aircraft at an altitude of 10-30 kilometers within the atmosphere.

For the missile defence, the MD control system is to be established around December, an anonymous military source said. The facility is to send an interception order after an early warning radar system detects any hostile missile. The radar is to be introduced here in mid-November, the source said.

The two countries have been conducting joint research on developing a “Korea Air and Missile Defence” system since they signed an agreement on the joint study in September 2010.

Calls for an enhanced missile defence programme have mounted in recent years as Pyongyang has continued to develop longer-range ballistic missiles. Seoul is banned from developing missiles with a range of more than 300 km under a 2001 agreement with Washington.

The longest-range North Korean missile under development is the Taepodong-2 missile, presumed to have a range of more than 6,700 km. It could hit parts of Alaska, but is still short of reaching the US mainland. The missile’s tests have so far failed.

On the issue of revising the agreement to allow the South to have longer-range ballistic missiles, Defence Secretary Panetta said there has been some headway in the bilateral negotiations.

“I think we are making good progress, and our hope is that we can arrive at an agreeable solution soon,” he said during a joint press conference after the talks.

Seoul has demanded that the range should be extended to longer than 800 kilometers to put all core military sites in the North within striking range. But Washington has apparently been reluctant over the extension as it could undermine its initiatives of nonproliferation and arms control.

Under the 2001 revision to the initial agreement, signed in 1979, Seoul is banned from developing ballistic missiles with a range of more than 300 kilometers. But it does not restrict the range of cruise missiles, which are much slower and easier to intercept.

It also stipulates that a payload must weigh no more than 500 kilograms to block the development of nuclear warheads.

Touching on the newly emerging security threat in cyberspace, the joint statement underscored the need to enhance bilateral cooperation in the realm of cyberspace and space.

“To this end, they decided to establish a cyber issues dialogue involving the relevant ministries and agencies, which will help coordinate our government, military and commercial security policies,” the statement said.

The ministers also warned against North Korea’s provocations, stressing that the communist state with its nuclear and missile development poses a “serious threat” to the allies, the region and the international community.

“The US reemphasised its steadfast and determined commitment through the alliance to defend the Republic of Korea against any aggression,” the statement said.”

“The ministers urged North Korea to cease its provocative behavior, live up to its obligations and commitments, and abide by the terms of the 1953 Armistice Agreement.”

Referring to North Korea’s fledgling leader Kim Jong-un, Clinton urged him to make a choice between holding on to the longstanding autocratic rule and turning into a leader that would bring in a change for the impoverished, isolated state.

“This young man, should he make a choice that would help bring North Korea into the 21st century, could go down in history as a transformative leader or he can continue the model of the past,” she said.

She also said that Pyongyang would “achieve nothing” by provocations, which will only continue to isolate the country.


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