Beef up our missile deterrenceExperts and governments around the world are still unsure about the significance of North Korea’s third nuclear test. Few disagree that Tuesday’s test is advanced from a technological aspect compared to tests in 2006 and 2009. The main question we have is whether North Korea is capable of mastering atomic bombs small enough to fit onto the warhead of a long-range missile. Whether the threat is imminent or down the road, we are already in a state of grave urgency. We must deter further weapons development and be fully prepared.
Two days after North Korea’s nuclear test, the South Korea Defense Ministry released a video showcasing the test-launches of the military’s new cruise missiles from a submarine and a destroyer. The missiles are “precision-guided weapons that can identify and strike the window of a North Korean command post from anywhere in the Korean Peninsula,” said ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok. The military, having upped its security level to the state of alert, is engaged in major drills simultaneously in the land, sea and sky. Those actions are necessary to assure people of their safety and at the same time to flex our muscles. But the military should not forget the gravity of North Korea’s nuclear test when those actions could make our missile deterrence capabilities look stronger than they are. North Korea is said to own more than 1,000 missiles with varied distance ranges. They can be fired mostly from mobile launchers. Even with the best precision-strike capabilities, we cannot destroy missiles fired from them.
Seoul plans to establish by 2015 the so-called kill chain system that can identify, target and preemptively strike North Korean missile launchers and nuclear facilities within 30 minutes upon any movement of the launchers. But the plan still exists only on paper. Even with the capacity a reality, it is nearly impossible to intercept and destroy all the missiles flying from the North.
Seoul must beef up its missile defense capabilities. We are currently working on developing a comprehensive missile defense shield program dubbed as the Korean Air and Missile Defense. It aims to equip itself with an independent security and missile defense system separate from the U.S.-led multi-layered missile defense system to protect itself from a North Korean attack.
But the plan also remains in the works due to a lack of funds. The new government should place a high priority on defense and propose supplementary spending to accelerate the program. If our own system cannot be ready soon, Seoul could consider the U.S.-led missile defense system as a secondary option.