Half-baked missile negotiationsThe missile negotiations between South Korea and the United States are reportedly reaching a settlement after a 20-month-long struggle. Both sides have allegedly agreed to extend our missile range from the current 500 kilometers (310 miles) to 800 kilometers, while leaving the missile warhead weight intact - at less than 500 kilograms (1,102 pounds). Korea cannot develop or possess ballistic missiles with a longer range or heavier weight pursuant with the bilateral missile guidelines amended in 2001.
Despite the argument that the guideline is a mechanism to prevent indiscriminate diffusion of ballistic missile technology that could be used as a means to deliver weapons of mass destruction, military experts have criticized that it can also serve as shackles on a sovereign state’s right to self-defense.
In contrast, North Korea can exert all efforts to develop long-range missiles by taking advantage of its status as an outsider of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) aimed at limiting the spread of ballistic missiles and other unmanned delivery systems that could be used for chemical, biological and nuclear attacks. The North has not only deployed as many as 1,000 Scud missiles aimed at the entire region of South Korea, but is also enthusiastically developing intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that could reach the continental U.S. The missile gap between Seoul and Pyongyang is too wide to be narrowed at the current pace. That’s why South Korea has earnestly been negotiating with the United States since early last year primarily out of a desperate sense of crisis under ever-growing missile threats from the North.
The 800-kilometer missile range which South Korea and the U.S. have agreed upon appears to be a realistic choice, as it can cover the entire area of North Korea but stops short of arousing Japan. However, maintaining the warhead weight at the same level as before is troublesome because of the need to sustain our defense for at least one hour until the U.S. nuclear umbrella and troop reinforcements prove effective. Missile experts contend it would be difficult to expect an effective strike of strategic targets in the North if our ballistic missiles carry warheads weighing less than 500 kilograms.
A clause in the missile agreement is also problematic as it still bans our development of solid fuel for civilian space rockets. Meanwhile, Japan - freed from the fetters of the missile guidelines long ago - has entered the phase of commercializing ICBM-class space launch vehicles. South Koreans are suspicious of the discriminative treatment.