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New S. Korea-US missile range deal covers all of N. Korea

Publication Date : 07-10-2012

 

Washington and Seoul have agreed on revising a bilateral guideline to allow the latter to develop more powerful ballistic missiles with a range of up to 800 kilometres, up from the previous 300 km, presidential office of Cheong Wa Dae said today.

From South Korea's central region, the maximum range can reach all North Korean military sites.

The weight of the payload is to remain at 500 kilograms when the range is 800 km, but it can increase proportionately should the range decrease, the presidential office said. Under a "trade-off" principle, the weight could more than triple if the range is at 300 km.

The allies have also agreed to raise the ceiling on the payload weight of unmanned aerial vehicles to 2,500 kg, up from the previous 500 kg, giving a boost to Seoul's efforts to acquire advanced surveillance and combat aircraft.

"The Seoul government delivered to the US government the revision to the 2001 missile guideline on Oct. 5," Chun Young-woo, senior presidential secretary for foreign affairs and security, told a press conference at Cheong Wa Dae.

"This is the outcome that resulted from the combination of the best South Korea-US relationship, personal friendship between their leaders, and trust and partnership between the allies."

Chun added South Korea has now secured "effective, various means" to secure the life and safety of our people by promptly neutralising nuclear and missile forces in case of North Korea's armed attack or provocation.

The allies did not make any agreement over restrictions on Seoul's development of civilian-purpose solid-fuel rockets as the recent negotiations focused on ways to better deal with North Korea's nuclear and missile threats, he explained.

"We shared the understanding that we will discuss the civilian rocket issue later at an appropriate time," he said.

Seoul has notified China, Russia and China in advance of the guideline revision, Chun said without elaborating on their responses.

South Korea has long pushed for the revision of the guideline, first finalised in 1979 and amended in 2001 as it does not reflect the changing security environment where neighbouring states including the North have increasingly formidable missile capabilities.

Seoul initially suggested that the range be extended to around 1,000 km to put core military targets in the North within striking range.

It particularly underscored the need for stronger self-defence as it prepares to retake wartime operational control from Washington in December 2015, after which the South will take a leading role in the case of a war, with the U.S. providing support.

But Washington was apparently reluctant over the amendment as it could undermine its global initiatives of non-proliferation and arms control, and could provoke China, Russia and Japan, not to mention the North.

Analysts say that the US might have remained uncompromising as the revision of the Seoul-Washington pact could prompt other partners with similar missile deals to seek their own revision. It had long argued the South could rest assured as the U.S. assets under the allies' combined forces can effectively handle North Korean threats.

Experts welcomed the revision, stressing that longer-range missiles would become South Korea's strategic military assets to deal with changing security conditions in East Asia.

"Washington appears to have made much concession as the 800 km range extends to some neighbouring states," Yang Uk, a senior research fellow at Korea Defence and Security Forum, told The Korea Herald.

"Aside from North Korea, as China becomes more aggressive, having recently launched its first aircraft carrier into service, the US might have relaxed the missile limit for Seoul."

The UAV-related amendment has paved the way for Seoul's acquisition of advanced unmanned surveillance drones and combat aircraft.

With an aim to deploy them in 2021, the South Korean military has recently launched a 500 billion won (US$447 million) project to indigenously develop an unmanned combat aerial vehicle.

It has also sought to acquire an unmanned surveillance plane such as the Global Hawk spy drone to enhance intelligence capabilities for better monitoring of North Korean military movements, ahead of Seoul's retaking of wartime operational control. The largest drone, Global Hawk, is capable of carrying a payload weighing up to 2,268 kg.

Seoul first forged the guideline with Washington in 1979 as it sought to bolster self-defence capabilities amid continuing North Korean threats. The first deal limited the range to 180 km while banning Seoul from mounting a payload weighting more than 500 kg to block the use of nuclear warheads.

As the South needed core technology and components for its missile development with its heavy military, diplomatic and economic dependence on the US, it could not help but sign the deal, analysts say.

Security concerns had also grown deeper in the late 1970s as then US president Jimmy Carter with his signature human rights-based foreign policy had some friction with then general-turned-president Park Chung-hee and moved to withdraw American troops from the peninsula.

As the North and other surrounding nations continued to enhance missile capabilities, South Koreans increased their calls for the revision or abolition of the guideline. After years-long negotiations with the US, the allies agreed in 2001 to revise the original pact to extend the range to 300 km.

With the limits on the range and payload weight, Seoul has instead focused on developing cruise missiles. But the missiles are much slower and, thus, easier to intercept.

Despite the 2001 revision, South Koreans' calls for the range extension have persisted due to the growing "missile gap" of some two decades with North Korea.

North Korea succeeded in test-firing a Rodong ballistic missile with a range of 1,300 km in 1993. It has already deployed its longest-range ballistic Musudan missile with a range of 3,000-4,000 km since 2007. The Musudan, in theory, brings Guam, a key US strategic base in the Asia-Pacific region, within its range.

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

 

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