South Korea Extends Missile Range

By Davenport, Kelsey | Arms Control Today, November 2012 | Go to article overview

South Korea Extends Missile Range


Davenport, Kelsey, Arms Control Today


South Korea announced on Oct. 7 it had reached an agreement with the United States that will allow Seoul to extend the range of its ballistic missiles to 800 kilometers with a 500-kilogram payload, an increase the governments of both countries say is necessary to counter the growing threat posed by North Korea's ballistic missiles.

Under a 2001 agreement with the United States, South Korea was limited to developing ballistic missiles with ranges of no more than 300 kilometers with a 500-kilogram payload. (See ACT, March 2001.) That agreement increased South Korea's ballistic missile range from the 180-kilometer restriction that the two parties had negotiated in 1979.

Under the new guidelines, South Korea will be able to target any site in North Korea from anywhere in its own territory.

In an Oct. 7 press briefing, White House spokesman Jay Carney described the extension as a "prudent, proportional, and specific response" that is designed to improve South Korea's "ability to defend" against North Korea's ballistic missiles.

In an Oct. 12 interview, however, Leon Sigal, a Korea expert at the Social Science Research Council, said that the increased range is "exceedingly dangerous given the state of the military balance" on the Korean peninsula and that South Korea and the United States need to clarify whether the U.S. commander in South Korea will be consulted about any use of these weapons. If the decision on use rests solely with the South Koreans, there is a greater concern for escalation in the event of an incident, Sigal said.

North Korea is believed to have several varieties of operationally deployed ballistic missiles, including the Nodong, which has a range of approximately 1,300 kilometers. North Korea also is developing intercontinental ballistic missiles, although it has yet to conduct a successful test of a missile in that category. The last of these tests, which North Korea maintains was a satellite launch on an Unha-3 rocket, took place in April. (See ACT, May 2012.)

Michael Elleman, who was a missile expert for the UN team conducting weapons inspections in Iraq, said in an Oct. 15 e-mail that although Seoul's "symbolic and psychological need to 'mirror'" North Korea's ballistic missile capabilities is understandable, it could be done using space launchers and that theater missile defenses "to defeat or blunt" North Korean threats would have "greater utility." Space launchers use technology applicable to longer-range ballistic missile development.

If striking targets throughout North Korea is Seoul's priority, developing cruise missiles is a better option because they are "more accurate, militarily effective and less vulnerable to preemption," said Elleman, who now is with the International Institute for Strategic Studies. …

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