Raise the cap on missile rangeTalks between South Korea and the United States to revise a bilateral pact enabling Seoul to make missiles reaching anywhere in North Korea have been mired in deadlock over differences in key details. Hawkish officials are angry over Washington’s excess interference in self-defense and are demanding Seoul ignore the nonbinding guidelines restricting the country’s missile capabilities. If the talks that began in January of last year are dragged on further, they may cause strains in the Korea-U.S. security alliance.
South Korea wants to raise the cap on the missile range from 300 kilometers (186 miles) as defined in the 2001 bilateral agreement to at least 800 kilometers to bring all of North Korea within striking distance from the southernmost tip, and close the gap to the North’s missile capabilities. North Korea, which has been pursuing missile development since 1970, has mass-produced Scud missiles that can fly 500 kilometers carrying payload of 770 kilograms (1,697 pounds) from the 1990s. It has more than1,000 Rodong missiles that can strike locations over 1,300 kilometers, in fact anywhere in the South Korean territory, and is now focused on developing intercontinental ballistic missiles.
South Korea, despite its technological and financial resources, has contained missile development and was able to raise the distance to 300 kilometers with a warhead payload of 500 kilograms in 2001. It developed Hyunmu series cruise missiles capable of flying as far as 1,500 kilometers that can bypass the ballistic missile guideline. Cruise missiles, however, can carry lighter payload of under 450 kilograms and are therefore less destructive.
Washington wants to contain Seoul’s missile capabilities in accordance with its worldwide nonproliferation campaign. The U.S. applies separate bilateral pacts with South Korea, Brazil and South Africa. It claims it cannot single out South Korea for the sustainability of the arrangement and that its security alliance is enough to contain and respond to North Korea’s weapons capabilities and attacks.
But with North Korea suspected of being capable of delivering nuclear warheads, it remains skeptical whether Washington is ready to take pre-emptive actions against possible North Korean nuclear provocations. The missile distance should be at least 800 kilometers as the 550 kilometers advised by Washington would be ineffective against North Korea.