[Viewpoint] Time to lift the cap

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[Viewpoint] Time to lift the cap

A consensus is building among South Koreans on the need to boost our missile capabilities on par with that of North Korea, after Pyongyang again caused a stir with its satellite launch suspected to be a long-range-missile test.

South Korea is bound by agreement with the United States to not develop ballistic missiles with a range exceeding 300 kilometers (186 miles) and a 500-kilogram (1,102-pound) payload.

Some cite South Korea’s membership to the Missile Technology Control Regime as its commitment to keep missile technology within the threshold. But MTCR is an international treaty to prevent exports and proliferation of missile technology and is unrelated to development of missiles for deterrence defense.

Some also fear South Korea’s development of ballistic missiles could spur an arms race among neighbor countries. But our direct interests with China and Japan are mostly related to exports and trade and not defense. They share concerns for South Korea’s exposure to missile threats from North Korea. If we adhere to guidelines on missile range and transparency in the development program, there is no reason to cause any suspicion.

The revision in the missile agreement with the U.S. won’t likely trigger diplomatic conflict even if it is against proliferation of missiles. Washington agrees with the need for augmenting South Korea’s missile capabilities as part of strengthening broader defense posture after the U.S. hands over war command authority to South Korea.

The reason for revising the missile limit is simply because North Korea’s threats have overwhelmingly increased. When South Korea entered in to agreement with the U.S. to restrict ballistic missile capabilities to a range of 180 kilometers in 1979, the South had been ahead of the North in missile technology. The agreement was modified in 2001 to the MTCR export limit of 300 kilometers to meet with North Korea’s challenging and threatening missile and warhead capabilities.

Over the last decade, the gap in ballistic missile capabilities between the two Koreas widened further. The country advanced Rodong missiles with a range of 1,600 kilometers, capable of reaching Japan, as well as Musudan missiles with a suspected range of over 3,000 kilometers to reach U.S. bases in Okinawa and Guam. It fired intercontinental ballistic rockets four times and also conducted nuclear tests twice demonstrating nuclear warhead capabilities. Our entire land and population as well as the region are under direct threat of North Korean nuclear attack.

There is no other country like South Korea that lives under an immediate defense threat with such disproportionate arms capabilities. Israel is equipped with the two-stage long-range ballistic missile system Jericho II capable of carrying nuclear warheads, as well as Jericho III with a three-stage solid propellant and payload with an estimated range from 4,400 kilometers to 11,500 kilometers.

We do not require deterrence ballistic missile capabilities beyond the region since our threat is North Korea. The extension should be upped to at least 800 kilometers to target the entire area of North Korea and to be safe from a short-distance missile attack from North Korea.

In horse racing, a bigger horse must carry a heavier weight to keep its balance in the race. At the time of setting missile limits, a handicap may have been necessary for a balance of military power on the Korean Peninsula. But the balance has long been tipped toward North Korea. The cap on South Korea should be lifted. While defense policy should not necessarily be swayed by public demand, this time the public consensus is right.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

*The author is head of North Korean team at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses.

by Shin Bum-chul
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