South Korea

South Korea allowed longer-range missiles

Under pact with US, rockets could fly 800km, up from 300km, to counter 'nuclear threat'

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 October, 2012, 2:02pm

South Korea has announced a deal with the United States that will almost triple the range of its missiles to cover the whole of North Korea - a move likely to infuriate Pyongyang.

The agreement will allow the South to deploy missiles with a range of 800 kilometres, up from the current limit of 300 kilometres, National Security Adviser Chun Yung-woo said.

"The biggest purpose of the revision is curbing military provocations by North Korea," Chun said yesterday.

The extension will bring not only the whole of North Korea within reach of Seoul's rockets, but also parts of China and Japan.

The US stations 28,500 troops in South Korea and guarantees a nuclear "umbrella" in case of any atomic attack, while Seoul limits its missile capabilities.

An agreement signed with the US in 2001 - the year South Korea joined the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) - restricted Seoul to rockets with a range of 300 kilometres and a payload of 500kg.

Given the ambitions of nuclear-armed North Korea's own missile programme, the South has long argued for the limits to be extended. Negotiations took on a new urgency after the North's failed rocket launch in April. Pyongyang insisted its aim was to put a satellite into orbit, but the US and its allies saw it as a disguised long-range missile test banned under United Nations resolutions.

Chun said the new deal, which will take the range of South Korea's missiles well beyond MTCR limits, was aimed at "securing a more comprehensive response to missile threats" by the North. Seoul believes Pyongyang has 1,000 missiles of various types, many of them targeted at the capital or other locations in the South.

The maximum payload for the maximum 800-kilometre range will remain at 500kg, but Chun stressed the two parameters were inversely linked, so that for shorter ranges corresponding payload increases would be allowed.

A 500kg warhead would be powerful enough to destroy or damage the equivalent of several dozen soccer stadiums at one time, said Shin Won-sik, a Seoul Defence Ministry official.

There was no immediate comment from the US State Department, but Washington has said it considers South Korea a special proliferation case, given the threat posed by the North.

In June, Vann Van Diepen, a senior US government non-proliferation official, said the standards of the MTCR - an informal club of 34 largely Western countries - had to be balanced against members' "legitimate defence requirements".

But analysts warned that the new deal might accelerate an arms race in Northeast Asia and weaken Seoul's arguments against Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programmes. Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul said the deal "is really a double-edged sword and goes against the wider global efforts to reduce weapons of mass destruction".