Send a messenger to Pyongyang

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Send a messenger to Pyongyang

Raytheon is America’s fourth-largest defense contractor in the United States, reporting a revenue of $24.8 billion and an operating profit of $2.86 billion last year with 68,000 employees around the world. Revenue-wise, it ranks behind Lockheed Martin and Boeing, but is the world’s leading manufacturer of guided missiles. It enjoys unrivaled status in missile system technology - in designing, development and commercialization of various missile systems, smart munitions, projectiles, weapons, communications and intelligence systems. Boeing is the prime contractor for the U.S. missile defense systems, but Raytheon provides the core equipment for ballistic missiles like the self-propelled X-Band radar station. The long-range Patriot missile systems also deployed by Korean forces are produced by Raytheon.

Should one write a spy novel based on the ongoing events on the Korean Peninsula, Raytheon’s chief executive William Swanson would surely be featured in the story. He joined the company in 1972 and has been involved in the key missile system developments for the last four decades. He may be sitting back in his armchair in the Massachusetts headquarters watching gleefully at the brewing tensions in Northeast Asia in the wake of North Korea’s third nuclear test.

Soon after Pyongyang blew up what it claimed to be a smaller miniaturized nuclear device, U.S. President Barack Obama called it a “serious threat” and singled out North Korea in his State of the Union address to warn that its provocations would “strengthen our own missile defense and America will lead the world in taking firm action in response to these threats.”

He pledged the U.S. will take necessary steps to defend it and its allies, suggesting Washington will join forces with the international community to block North Korea’s trade and proliferation of its nuclear arsenal and materials and respond to its nuclear threats through missile defense systems.

Some say South Korea should accelerate deployment of the Korean Air and Missile Defense system or join the U.S.-led integrated missile defense program. After a two-plus-two meeting of defense and foreign ministers in June last year, South Korea and the U.S. said they agreed to strengthen their comprehensive missile defense capability to cope more effectively with threats from North Korea’s long-range missiles.

Washington has been tapping the possibility of South Korea’s participation in its multilateral missile defense program even as Seoul maintained - since the Kim Dae-jung administration - that it was pursuing a separate type of missile defense shield system.

Obama’s mention of strengthening its missile defense against North Korea may imply Washington’s commitment to protect its allies as well as an inclusion of South Korea in its missile defense network to beef up its joint military stand against China. The U.S would strategically gain the upper hand against China if it has South Korea as well as Japan tied to its anti-missile system in Asia with the goal of containing China.

Extra support will be welcome news to the U.S. defense industry, which has been jittery after Congress cut defense spending. Experts estimate the Korean missile defense program scheduled to be completed by 2017 would cost 2 to 3 trillion won ($1.85 to $2.78 billion) and separate participation of the U.S.-led missile system would mean an extra burden on the budget.

Whether it is home-grown or U.S.-led, the perfect success of an anti-missile system remains questionable. Missiles are harder to strike than gunshots in the air. With North Korea equipped with multi-warheads and mobile launchers, the successful strike and interception rate could fall below 50 percent. One government missile expert said there would be no escape if North Korea actually fires a nuclear weapon. So the only choice Seoul has now is to prevent North Korea from deploying nuclear weapons and at the same time exercise both a carrot and a stick to persuade its disarmament.

President-elect Park Geun-hye suggests a so-called inter-Korean trust-building process to solve the North Korean problem. Mutual confidence can build on dialogue and communication. Park would have to show a resolute will to improve inter-Korean ties and at the same time send a strong message to Pyongyang to end its missile and nuclear threat.

The U.S. and Soviet leaders exchanged hundreds of confidential communications during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Only four people in the White House were aware of the secret correspondence. Recently unveiled confidential documents showed that the exchange of letters between President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev helped to save the world from nuclear war.

It may be bad news for Raytheon’s executives, but missiles are not the answer to the North Korea nuclear threat. What is essential is our initiative to solve it. If we wait for Pyongyang to change as our incumbent government has done over the last five years, we will get nowhere. The new president must send a messenger to Pyongyang.

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Bae Myung-bok
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