[Outlook]Be preparedNorth Korea has deployed coastal artillery overlooking the Northern Limit Line, the inter-Korean sea border in the Yellow Sea, and is preparing to launch a Taepodong-2 missile, threatening both South Korea and the United States at the same time.
These kinds of threats are nothing new. This time, however, things feel more serious because the combination of nuclear arms and missiles has reached a new level of threat.
North Korea’s intention is probably to gain an advantage in nuclear negotiations with the newly launched Obama administration in the United States. In this situation, Seoul and Washington don’t hold many cards.
The North has a quite a few ballistic missiles and claims that it is getting ready to launch a satellite. If this missile launch goes successfully, and the country combines that power with the nuclear capacity that it claims to already possess, it will very likely ask for negotiations with the United States for nuclear recognition and normalization of ties.
Pyongyang will then try to exclude Seoul from those negotiations.
If North Korea fires a Taepodong-2, the United States plans to shoot it down with a Standard Missile-3 interceptor carried on the Aegis cruiser of the U.S. 7th Fleet.
Pyongyang, however, is still trying to get away with the launch by loading a satellite on the Taepodong-2 that only sends off Morse code signals, attempting to disguise the move as a satellite launch test.
A ballistic missile has the same structure as a rocket used to launch a satellite. It shoots out of the atmosphere and flies a trajectory before coming back down toward its target.
North Korea maintains that it also has the right to peacefully use and develop space. It claimed the same thing in 1998 when it launched the Taepodong-1 missile.
Meanwhile, early this month, Iran launched a Safir-2 rocket which was carrying a satellite. Iran and North Korea are known to cooperate on missile development.
If the United States attempts to impose sanctions on North Korea, Pyongyang will start talking about being treated equally with Iran. Such talk will put heavy pressure on the United States.
American troops positioned in Japan are within the range of North Korea’s Rodong missiles, which can go as far as 1,300 kilometers (808 miles), as well as mid-range missiles that can fly 2,500 kilometers or more, including the Russian-developed SS-N-6. The purpose of such arms is to stop reinforcements for U.S. troops in Korea in case an emergency takes place on the Korean Peninsula. In response, Japan and U.S. troops in Japan have put in place an Aegis system with SM-3 and Patriot missiles.
The threat posed by short-range missiles with a range of between 340 and 550 kilometers, such as the Scud-B and Scud-C, is even more serious. They target harbors, Air Force bases, military command offices, nuclear power plants and metropolitan cities. As North Korea’s short-range missiles would be launched from very close to the demilitarized zone, there would not be much time for our military to respond.
Such missiles would be able to reach Seoul in 2 minutes and 10 seconds, and our military’s capacity to intercept them is limited.
Old-fashioned Pac-2 missiles were put in position early this year, but as the Pac-2 is a cluster bomb, it can’t entirely take out a Scud missile even if it succeeds in intercepting it.
Besides, we have only 24 Pac-2 missiles, which is nowhere near sufficient to stop North Korea’s 600 Scuds. South Korea plans to set up an Air and Missile Defense command to coordinate interceptions of North Korean missiles, but it will go into effect as late as 2012.
We have the King Sejong the Great, an Aegis specializing in intercepting ballistic missiles, but it isn’t carrying any interceptor missiles.
We need more active and comprehensive measures against possible military provocations from Pyongyang. We must find effective ways to respond to North Korean nuclear arms negotiations or deceitful strategies, such as claiming a right to use space.
Saying it is launching a satellite when it has no communications functions is nonsense, just as claiming it is producing enriched uranium for fuel when it does not even have a nuclear power plant. If needed, we have to use United Nations Security Council resolutions 1695 and 1718, which were adopted in order to restrain North Korean missile launches and nuclear tests.
We also need to establish a Korean missile defense system earlier than scheduled. We must be equipped with Pac-3 missiles or similar arms to make sure that we can destroy a Scud if one is launched at us.
We also must establish the Air and Missile Defense Cell as soon as possible. Needless to say, a wider range of diplomatic efforts must also be employed.
*The writer is a JoongAng Ilbo staff reporter who specializes in military issues.
by Kim Min-seok