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[Editorial] S. Korea Needs a Stronger Military

Posted July. 08, 2009 08:47,   


U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Walter Sharp recently said Washington could discuss a revision to the bilateral agreement restricting the range of Korea’s ballistic missiles. He said this at a briefing for assistants to ruling and opposition party lawmakers. Back in April, Prime Minister Han Seung-soo told the National Assembly, “It is time a revision to the missile agreement to be seriously discussed at the (South) Korea-U.S. defense ministers meeting.” Sharp’s comments can be seen as a positive U.S. response to Han’s statement.

Additionally, North Korea has fired 18 missiles this year, including a long-range missile which flew 3,200 kilometers. Most of them, however, were short-range missiles with a range between 100 and 400 kilometers. Military experts have raised fears, however, with one saying, “North Korea now has the capacity to attack key military targets across South Korea.” This is a threat as serious as the North’s nuclear weapons. Seoul’s missile capacity lags far behind Pyongyang’s. The South under the agreement cannot develop ballistic missiles with a range of 300 kilometers or more and weighing 500 kilograms or more. Seoul has the technology but cannot adequately tackle Pyongyang’s missile threat due to the missile agreement with Washington.

The missile restriction dates back to the Park Chung-hee administration of the 1970s. When South Korea began developing missiles, the U.S. intervened to restrict their limit to 180 kilometers. The range was extended to 300 kilometers through a revision in 2001, but the gap between the two Koreas is expanding. Even for the sake of deterring North Korea’s missile threat, the restriction to the missile range must be lifted. Now that Washington has admitted to the need for revision, the two sides must promptly begin steps to revise the agreement. The two sides are hoped to come up with tangible results at their Security Consultative Meeting scheduled for October at the latest.

Over the past several years, South Korea and the U.S. have been reinforcing their military cooperation to boost Seoul’s combat capability. Ten military tasks, including surveillance in the Joint Security Area, which had been overseen by U.S. forces, and the execution of artillery combat were transferred to the South Korean military late last year. This will allow South Korea to keep its own territory. The Joint Vision for the ROK-U.S. Alliance, which President Lee Myung-bak and U.S. President Barack Obama agreed at their summit in Washington last month, says, “The Republic of Korea will take the lead role in the combined defense of Korea, supported by an enduring and capable U.S. military force presence on the Korean Peninsula, in the region and beyond.” There is no reason to believe that Seoul cannot spearhead missile defense.

The two allies need to further develop their alliance into one that aims to attain strategic goals for the Asia-Pacific region and the globe beyond the Korean Peninsula. To do that, South Korea’s military capacity must be boosted to a level where it can effectively deter North Korea’s military threat.