South considers nuclear submarines to defend against NorthSouth Korea should acquire nuclear submarines in order to counter the North’s improving submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) capabilities, the JoongAng Ilbo has learned the ruling party’s think tank recently recommended.
In an internal report offered to the lawmakers of the Saenuri Party earlier this month, the Youido Institute said South Korea must improve its antisubmarine capabilities to counter potential attacks by the North. On Aug. 24, the North fired an SLBM that flew approximately 500 kilometers (310.6 miles), demonstrating considerable improvement in its underwater-fired missile technology - and putting Seoul and its allies on edge.
“Surveillance of North Korean submarines has been mainly done by satellites,” said the report. “But it is difficult to track down their movement in real time. In order to spy, track and destroy North Korean submarines, the South must seriously consider owning nuclear-powered submarines.”
In the past, some conservative politicians, including Rep. Chung Jin-suk, the floor leader of the Saenuri Party, argued that the South should operate nuclear submarines to counter the North’s growing threats. The government and the ruling party, however, have never made the proposition because the United States has shown extreme sensitivity to any attempts at nuclear proliferation.
“There is no grounds for the U.S. government to bar the South from operating a nuclear submarine,” said an official from the Ministry of National Defense. “It can pressure the South Korean government to give up the idea through various means such as stopping arms sales.”
A ruling party official said the institute likely came to some agreement with the Blue House or the government before publishing the report, because it is aware of the situation. “In the past, a Youido Institute report has often served as the milepost for the policy direction of the Blue House and party leadership.”
The recommendation to the South Korean military to operate its own nuclear submarines apparently showed that the Korea-U.S. alliance may face a crisis due to the North’s improving SLBM capabilities. Quoting Japanese media reports that the North is building a 3,000-ton submarine capable of carrying three ballistic missiles, the institute said the new submarine is expected to have the ability to travel about 7,000 kilometers.
“If it is armed with missiles with a reach longer than 2,000 kilometers,” the report said, “it will be a threat to the U.S. mainland, if the distance between the North and the U.S. west coast is assumed to be about 10,000 kilometers.”
Although the attack range is calculated as being one half of the cruising range plus the missile range by taking into account the return trip, the North may decide not to consider a return trip.
“It is possible that the United States may reconsider its promise to support the South,” the report said, “if it has to risk the North’s nuclear missile attack on Seattle.”
Skepticism has already grown regarding the effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear umbrella due to the possibility of a subsequent nuclear war with China and the damages of nuclear fallout in neighboring countries. Other hard-line measures were also presented in the report, which suggested bringing back U.S. tactical nuclear weapons to the South if the North conducts another nuclear test.
It also suggested that Seoul, Washington and Tokyo must form a joint consultative body to counter the North’s threats. At their bilateral summit on Wednesday, President Park Geun-hye and her Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe, agreed that South Korea, Japan and the United States should more closely cooperate to jointly counter the North’s nuclear and missile threats, in an apparent reflection of the report’s recommendation.
BY LEE CHUNG-HYUNG [email@example.com]