US Agrees to Let South Korea Extend Range of Ballistic Missiles

November 9th, 2012 - by admin

Choe Sang-hun / The New York Times – 2012-11-09 02:24:57

SEOUL, South Korea (October 7, 2012) — South Korea has reached an agreement with the United States that lets it more than double the range of its ballistic missiles to counter what it considers to be a growing threat from North Korea.

The revised agreement, which also tries to address the United States’ worries about a regional arms race, increases the payload the ballistic missiles can carry and allows South Korea to develop and deploy more powerful unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, that can carry more reconnaissance equipment and weapons.

Under the revised guidelines, South Korea can deploy ballistic missiles with a range of up to 800 kilometers, or about 500 miles, enough to reach any target in North Korea but not enough to be considered a threat to China or Japan, as long as the payload does not exceed 500 kilograms, about half a ton. Seoul can also load warheads weighing up to two tons on ballistic missiles with shorter ranges.

Until now, South Korea has been barred from deploying ballistic missiles with a range of more than 300 kilometers, or 186 miles, and a payload of more than half a ton — a capacity South Korean officials believed was not enough to protect their country from North Korea’s rapidly expanding nuclear and missile capabilities. The South was also barred from deploying drones that can carry more than half a ton of weapons or equipment.

The new agreement allows South Korea to use drones that can carry up to 2.5 tons of equipment and weapons. Drones have emerged as a powerful weapon in modern warfare and can be configured to fly higher than most conventional warplanes, making them harder to shoot down, according to military experts. South Korea began deploying low-flying reconnaissance drones in 2002.

“The biggest objective for the revision is to prevent North Korea’s military provocations,” said Chun Yung-woo, the chief national security adviser for President Lee Myung-bak.

With an ability to deploy longer-range missiles or shorter-range missiles with heavier payloads, South Korea can significantly increase its deterrence capabilities, Shin Won-shik, a senior policy maker at the Defense Ministry, said during a news briefing.

North Korea has already deployed a number of missiles, including some capable of hitting the American territory of Guam, in addition to South Korea and Japan, the United States’ two main allies in Asia.

In April, North Korea launched its Unha-3 rocket. Although the long-range rocket failed to put a satellite into orbit, the United States and its allies condemned the launching as a cover for developing intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Possible objections from China and Japan were a major concern during the negotiations, and South Korean diplomats have spoken with counterparts in those countries to clarify that the revised policy is not directed against them, officials here said.

Mr. Shin said the United States and South Korea settled for limiting the maximum missile range to 500 miles to avoid “unnecessary misunderstanding and friction with neighboring countries.” He also reconfirmed that South Korea had no plan to join Washington’s missile defense program, which some analysts believe is intended to contain China’s military expansion.

The missile agreement takes place against the backdrop of the United States’ plans to increase its military presence in the Asia-Pacific region, which is a matter of concern in China. There was no immediate comment on Sunday from leaders in China, which is North Korea’s closest ally. But Xinhua, the Chinese state news agency, suggested that the extension of the missile range “runs counter to a global arms control agreement known as the Missile Technology Control Regime.”

The so-called missile guidelines, required by the United States in 1979 because of its concern over a regional arms race and revised only once, 11 years ago, had become a major grievance among South Koreans. Officials blamed the restriction for allowing their missile capacity to fall behind that of North Korea’s. Some key military installations in North Korea have been out of the range of South Korea’s ballistic missiles.

The United States has vowed to defend South Korea, but Seoul’s desire to improve its missile capabilities gained urgency as North Korea expanded its nuclear weapons program, tested long-range missiles and carried out provocative military maneuvers, including an artillery barrage on a South Korean island in 2010.

President Lee appealed for an American concession when he met President Obama last year and again in March, South Korean officials said.

Many in South Korea, including security analysts and conservative newspapers, had called on the United States to allow the South to develop more powerful missiles so it could use the propulsion and fuel technology to bolster its nascent space program.

They called the missile restrictions a humiliating remnant of Washington’s old patron-protégé relationship with Seoul that they said no longer befit South Korea.

The guidelines announced on Sunday “reconfirmed the limit in South Korea’s diplomacy,” said Lee Byong-chul, senior fellow at the Institute for Peace and Cooperation here. “South Korean negotiators didn’t secure enough of an opportunity for development in the face of their American counterparts’ Fabian strategy of wearing them out.”

South Korea first agreed to the missile guidelines in 1979 in return for American technological aid in developing its first ballistic missiles. After the South’s repeated requests for a revision, American officials agreed to extend the range to 300 kilometers from 180 kilometers in 2001, only after North Korea launched its Taepodong-1 missile over Japan in 1998.

American restrictions on ballistic missiles do not apply to South Korean cruise missiles.

In April, South Korea’s Agency for Defense Development confirmed that it had developed and deployed a new cruise missile, Hyunmoo-3, that is capable of striking targets anywhere in North Korea. Hyunmoo-3 is said to have a range of up to 1,500 kilometers, about 930 miles. But ballistic missiles fly faster and are thus harder to intercept, according to missile specialists.

Edward Wong contributed reporting from Beijing.

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