16 October 2013
“We are reviewing other options for multi-layered defense in addition to the L-SAM (long-range) and S-SAM (medium-range) surface-to-air guided missiles,” Kim said.
These remarks represent an about-face for the ministry, which was previously planning to organize Korean missile defense around low-altitude missile interception.
In effect, the remarks represent a declaration that South Korea will take part in the US-led missile defense system, which aims to intercept mid- and high-altitude missiles.
Kim’s remarks cannot be viewed in isolation from US-led security and military activities that have taken place recently in South Korea and Japan.
On his way to Seoul to participate in the yearly ROK-US Security Consultative Meeting, US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said on Sep. 30 that the most important factor in agreeing to South Korea’s request to delay the transfer of wartime operational control (OPCON) was South Korea’s participation in missile defense.
And during the actual meeting on Oct. 2, the two countries agreed to strengthen the interoperability of their missile defense systems.
Then, during the “two-plus-two” Security Consultative Committee meeting that was held in Tokyo on Oct. 3, the US recognized Japan’s right to collective self-defense, which the government of Shinzo Abe was pushing for, despite South Korea’s concerns about Japan’s regressive interpretations of history.
In the end, Kim’s remarks can be seen as loyal adherence to US plans to strengthen trilateral security cooperation between South Korea, the US, and Japan. These plans are focused on missile defense and disregard the historical dispute between South South Korea and Japan.
But there are several major problems with this idea. Setting aside the lack of transparency in the discussions, South Korea must give careful thought as to whether taking part in US-led missile defense will actually advance its national interest.
First of all, participating in missile defense would make an enemy of China which not only is South Korea’s most important partner for economic trade and cooperation but also holds the key to solving the issue of North Korea’s nuclear program.
This directly goes against Park’s trust-building process for the Korean peninsula and her Northeast Asia peace initiative. She is seeking the cooperation of China in both of these efforts.
In addition, participating in missile defense would be hard to cover on a financial level.
The South Korean government must tighten its budget as much as possible to cover the increasing demand for social welfare. If the country takes part in missile defense, it will be necessary to significantly expand the defense budget.
There are also military issues. North Korean missiles are capable of reaching Seoul within six or seven minutes.
With the technology that is currently available, it would be virtually impossible to detect and destroy such a missile before it is launched. It would be more practical to make an effort to counter North Korea’s long-range artillery, much of which are deployed against Seoul.
Furthermore, South Korea is a sovereign state, and it is embarrassing it to consider trading participation in missile defense for a delay in the OPCON transfer.
South Korea must not be bullied into accepting US demands for its participation in the missile defense program. Instead, it must state with firmness that it does not intend to take part.
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