Reinforcing deterrent effectSouth Korea will be able to extend the range of its ballistic missiles to 800 kilometers (497 miles) under a new pact with the United States, nearly tripling its current range. The deal, which comes after nearly two years of negotiations, is the first major change to the bilateral missile pact that was first drawn up in 1979.
The lifting of missile limits raises the South’s deterrence and attack capabilities against the North, which is equipped with long-range missiles that can reach as far as U.S. Pacific territory and which also has nuclear warheads. The reinforcement represents a modest step amid the rapidly changing security situation in the Asia-Pacific region, but it nevertheless puts the South in a better defensive position.
The extended missile range means the country will be able to strike the northern tip of North Korea without threatening neighboring China and Japan. Payload capabilities will still be restricted to 500 kilograms (1,102 pounds), however, just half of the North’s reported capability.
Yet the South will be free to use heavier warheads for shorter-range missiles in the so-called trade-off guideline. When striking outside the threat of the North’s strategic missile range of 120 kilometers, the entire country falls within the target zone of 550 kilometers. The South can fire or unload heavy-weighted one-ton warheads at closer range. It can also develop special and multi-functional missiles within the distance range.
The new guideline also allows the South greater load weights for unmanned aerial vehicles like drones that can be used for both surveillance and combat purpose. Under today’s fast technological advancement, the military should be able to develop unmanned vehicles with surveillance and combat capabilities.
Some conservative voices have called for the total abandonment of the voluntary missile-limit program with the U.S., but such a move is unthinkable considering the importance of the security alliance with our traditional ally. The outgoing government should be commended for its last effort to conclude the negotiations with a modest gain on our part.
However, it is a pity that Seoul could not persuade Washington to lift its cap on the development of solid fuel necessary for a peaceful space program. Without this, the country will not be able to upgrade its rocket technology to match Japan’s level. What is important now is to advance our technology in order to maximize our new capabilities by 2015 when we become fully responsible for operational control in the event of a war.