[OUTLOOK]Missile Defense Requires Clear Thinking

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[OUTLOOK]Missile Defense Requires Clear Thinking

Human history can be described as a battle between offensive and defensive weapons. Once offensive weapons were developed, defenses were devised to offset them. But it is a different story when we consider the problem of defenses against intercontinental ballistic missiles traveling at 20 times the speed of sound.

If defenses against nuclear missiles cannot be developed, it was inevitable that something like the Cold War doctrine of mutually assured destruction would have developed. Both the United States and the Soviet Union had the guaranteed capacity to annihilate the other country even after absorbing a nuclear attack. The horror of that nuclear equilibrium was a high price to pay for world peace, but it worked. Military experts have asserted that breaking this balance is undesirable for world peace. Missile interception systems or other shields to protect people from nuclear attacks could damage strategic stability. Therefore, those experts say, making national populations hostages to possible nuclear attacks keeps a strategic balance and keeps the peace.

The United States succeeded in a missile intercept test involving an intercontinental missile last Saturday; mankind may soon have a defensive means of countering missile attacks. Like the legendary problems that mankind faced when it stole fire from the gods, nuclear forces, misused, could be a calamity. It is our decision whether missile defense shields will contribute to world peace or bring on that calamity.

The Bush administration has developed the Clinton administration's national missile defense plan into a broader umbrella which would cover its allies as well. The new plan also includes weapons systems on land, in the sea and in the air which would be capable of shooting down enemy missiles in their boost phase, when they are traveling slowly, have not released their payloads and are more vulnerable to attack.

The U.S. missile defense plan provokes more political problems than technical problems. First of all, it is closely connected with the revision of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty signed in 1972 by the United States and the Soviet Union. Under that treaty, both sides are allowed to hold 100 ballistic missiles each to defend their capitals and one additional part of their territory, not their entire nations. Two years later, a protocol to the treaty reduced the number of defense areas to one.

The United States says it wants to begin developing an anti-ballistic missile radar system in Alaska soon in order to deploy a missile defense system by 2005, when North Korea may develop a ballistic missile that could attack the mainland of the United States.

That construction is arguably itself a violation of the ABM treaty. Russia may compromise on ways of continuing to adhere to the basic framework of the treaty and restraining missile defense systems at a certain limited level; Russia is also exposed to a threat of mass destruction. The United States declared unilaterally that it would reduce its strategic nuclear arsenal, considering that Russia cannot keep a nuclear balance with the United States because of its economic difficulties. But the international community, including U.S. allies, are concerned about unilateral U.S. defensive means as well as its still-powerful offensive arsenal. President Bush is working to persuade U.S. allies to his point of view on missile defenses.

The missile defense issue is not a fire on the opposite bank of the river because we are a U.S. ally and U.S. troops are stationed on our territory. Our position on the issue is not just a theoretical one; we are drawn into the debate both because U.S. troops are here and because the U.S. wants its allies to be under the defensive umbrella.

Many analysts in Seoul are currently inclined to emphasize the negative effects of the missile defense plan on North-South relations. But North Korea has separated the missile defense issue from negotiations with the United States; Pyongyang has pushed for resuming talks with Washington, while Washington has pushed for the missile defense system. Coincidentally, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il delivered to Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson his intention to halt missile launch tests until 2003 right after President Bush revealed his missile defense plan.

It is time for us to review the missile defense plan from a security point of view. China is actively modernizing its nuclear missiles, and Russia adopted new military doctrine which would consolidate its nuclear power. While North Korea has not shown complete transparency in its nuclear program in spite of the 1994 Geneva Agreement, Japan has the capability to make nuclear weapons at any time.

We have depended on the U.S. nuclear umbrella up to now. But the United States changed its defense strategy from a nuclear umbrella - the threat to retaliate against a nuclear attack on Korea - to a missile defense shield, which is a non-nuclear deterrence system. This means we are facing a significant change to the assumptions behind our security policy. It is urgent that we hammer out a new security and defense policy.


The writer is a professor at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security.

by Yun Deok-min

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