On Sunday, South Korean and U.S. representatives announced that they have come to an agreement that allows South Korea to extend the range of its ballistic missiles.
This is a major positive step in the bilateral relationship and one that The Heritage Foundation’s expert Bruce Klingner called for on numerous occasions.
The previous 2001 agreement limited the range of South Korea’s ballistic missiles to about 186 miles and no more than 1,100 pounds. This practically meant that South Korean missiles would have to be deployed well within the range of North Korean artillery to reach rear targets in North Korea. Under the new agreement, South Korea is permitted to possess ballistic missiles with a range of about 500 miles while preserving the 1,100 pounds throw weight threshold for this category of missiles.
Shorter range missiles are also allowed to carry heavier payloads under the new agreement. The new arrangement allows South Korea to build a sufficiently robust, indigenous military to deter, defend, and defeat hostile North Korean actions.
North Korea, for its part, reacted to the announcement with a statement that its ballistic missiles are capable of reaching U.S. homeland. The new North Korean regime is deploying the same old tactics of intimidation and threats. The truth is, however, that North Korean ballistic missiles have been capable of reaching Hawaii and Alaska for quite some time.
Ten years ago, when the U.S. withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and was permitted to deploy its first nationwide missile defense system (the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense System), then-President Bush chose Alaska and California to deploy the first interceptors. This is because, at the time, the North Korean threat was considered more dangerous than that of Iran.
North Korean belligerence was also prominently displayed during 2010 when Pyongyang sank a South Korean naval vessel in South Korean waters and shelled a civilian island, killing a total of 50 citizens. Additionally, Pyongyang has deployed 700 Scud ballistic missiles against South Korea, which can carry explosive, chemical, or biological warheads.
In addition to extending the range of South Korean missiles, the U.S. should augment ballistic missile defenses in the region. The Heritage Foundation recommends that the U.S. deploys three Terminal High Altitude Area Defense batteries to Asia and continue to expand the U.S. missile defense program to make sure that it does not fall behind the threat.