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Mounting U.S.-China tension offers S. Korea chance to expand military capabilities

Mounting U.S.-China tension offers S. Korea chance to expand military capabilities

Posted July. 27, 2017 07:25,   

Updated July. 27, 2017 07:36


The security situation around the Korean Peninsula seems quite unusual. On Sunday, Chinese fighter jets intercepted a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft flying in international skies near the Yellow Sea around the Korean Peninsula, creating a highly volatile situation. China has beefed up military forces around North Korea-China border areas, and is reportedly conducting live-fire drills with its forces that could be deployed into the North in the event of an emergency situation. Saying that Washington will toughen sanctions against individuals and companies that enable North Korea to develop nuclear weapons and missiles, Susan Thornton, Assistant Secretary for the East Asian and Pacific Affairs Bureau in the U.S. State Department, issued a stern warning on Tuesday, “They include individuals and companies in China.” On the same day, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill calling for strong sanctions against Pyongyang including halt of crude oil export to North Korea.

The U.S. and China, which sought to collaborate to deter the North’s provocations up until April when the rumor of a "Crisis on the Korean Peninsula" was circulating, are on the collision course three months later. With China having granted North Korea diplomatic and economic breathing room, Kim Jong Un will likely complete the North’s capabilities in intercontinental ballistic missile that can strike the U.S. mainland, and submarine launched ballistic missile enabling Pyongyang to launch retaliatory nuclear attacks in the event of armed conflict within one to two years. With tension mounting in Northeast Asia due to conflict between Washington and Beijing and with Pyongyang strengthening its military forces by the hour, South Korea urgently needs to expand its military capabilities to ensure its national security.

President Moon Jae-in reportedly made request to U.S. President Donald Trump to lift the current 500-kilogram restriction on the weight of warhead for ballistic missiles during the Seoul-Washington summit last month. Under the South Korea-U.S. missile guidelines, Seoul needs Washington’s understanding to be able to increase the range of South Korean missiles and the weight of warheads. For South Korea to implement the Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation (KMPR) plan against the North that hided most of its key military facilities in over 7,000 underground sites, it must increase the explosiveness of its warheads. In this light, Seoul’s demand to increase the weight of its warheads to up to 1 ton is more than justified.

Up until five years ago, the U.S. rejected South Korea’s demand to increase the weight of warheads, saying that the measure could drive neighboring countries into arms race. It is said that President Trump immediately gave a positive response to President Moon’s offer. This can be partly due to increased threat from North Korea, but it could also be because the Moon administration’s direction for self-defense policy may be compatible with the Trump administration’s bid to reduce U.S. defense spending for allies. By taking advantage of this opportunity, President Moon and the South Korean military leadership need to consider proactively accepting internal demand within the military to introduce a nuclear submarine, and holding related discussions with Washington. For South Korea to cope with the North’s SLBM, the South urgently needs to introduce a nuclear submarine that is capable of undersea operation virtually for an unlimited period of time, and can maneuver rapidly. The Trump administration’s move to end the U.S.’ role as "global police," can provide South Korea with a potential opportunity to expand military capabilities.