We need missiles with rangeAmid escalating tension between South and North Korea, the JoongAng Ilbo reported yesterday, that South Korea and the United States have agreed to extend South Korean ballistic missiles’ firing range from 300 kilometers to 550 kilometers (341 miles). Responding to the report, the Ministry of National Defense said, “The issue is not settled yet.” If the Defense Ministry’s statement is true, it is rather fortunate. If our ballistic missiles’ firing range is limited to 550 kilometers, it will most likely deal a serious blow to our deterrence against the North’s firepower.
The United States established the voluntary Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) with its allies, aimed at limiting the spread of ballistic missiles which could be used for chemical, biological and nuclear attacks. The current guideline signed between Korea and the U.S. in 1979 and revised in 2001 strictly restricts our ballistic missiles’ firing range to 300 kilometers and a payload to 500 kilograms (1,102 pounds). The U.S., however, employs flexible standards depending on each country’s security situation.
Meanwhile, North Korea has deployed as many as 1,000 short- and medium-range ballistic missiles capable of striking the entire area of South Korea since the 1970s, after exerting strenuous efforts to develop sophisticated missile technology, not to mention a number of medium- and long-range missiles, including Rodong and Taepodong. With a remarkable advancement of North Korean missile technology, the missile capability gap between the two countries has widened to almost an incomparable level.
South Korea and the United States have been negotiating over the issue since President Lee Myung-bak’s visit to Washington last October when Lee stressed to U.S. President Barack Obama about a practical need to extend our missiles’ firing range. Though the consultation is reportedly approaching its final phase, the U.S. government appears to be half-hearted in meeting our urgent security needs.
If the firing range of our ballistic missiles is limited to 550 kilometers, our capability to strike the North cannot but be substantially diminished. In order to successfully attack the northern region of North Korea, our missile units have to be deployed along the front lines of the military border, which makes them particularly vulnerable to attacks by the North’s short-range missiles and countless long-range artillery guns placed along the DMZ. Therefore, most military experts say in chorus that our missiles’ firing rage should be extended to at least 800 kilometers. The government must do the job no matter what.