North Korean Threats Deepen Southern Nuclear Insecurities (Page 2 of 3)

The United States and South Korea have used various supplementary tools to supplement the nuclear guarantee. The Pentagon has forward deployed large numbers of U.S soldiers, warships, and warplanes in South Korea or nearby Japan. The U.S. Defense Department has also been developing a range of conventional and non-kinetic strike weapons that could allow for more precisely measured retaliation to DPRK provocations.

Further, the United States has encouraged the ROK to develop its own powerful armed forces, including by selling weapons to the South Korean military and by offering training and joint exercises to increase inter-alliance interoperability as well as demonstrate the readiness and credibility of the joint command to resist DPRK provocations. To curb the export of WMD-related material and their means of delivery from North Korea, the George W. Bush administration launched its Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) in 2003. The Obama administration has vigorously supported the PSI, which South Korea joined in 2009, after the second DPRK nuclear test.

The South Korean response to the 2010 provocations was faulted because the existing contingency plans for retaliating to North Korean aggression required direct ROK presidential authorization, which meant the ROK counterbattery fire only occurred well after the initial DPRK shelling. The new counter-provocation strategy adopted in March of this year provides for more a prompt and vigorous response to future DPRK provocations. Nevertheless, Washington pushed for some safeguards over a hasty or excessive South Korean response that could escalate the conflict in unwelcome ways.

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Specifically, the plan allows for retaliation “against the point where the attack originated” and possibly against “a second point.”  South Korea will have the lead role in any military response, but Seoul should consult with the United States before retaliating and must request the use of any U.S. assets. Although still controversial due to the risk of North Korea’s misperceiving the response as an escalatory move rather than an equivalent “tit-for-tat” response, the counter-provocation contingency plan has clarified each country’s role and removed sources of possible disagreements and tensions.

In October 2012, the ROK Defense Ministry announced that the ROK and the United States had agreed on Revised Missile Guidelines permitting South Korea to acquire ballistic and cruise missiles with longer ranges and heavier payloads. Under a 2001 accord with Washington, Seoul agreed not to deploy ballistic missiles having a range of more than 300 km or a payload of more than 500 kg. Under the new guidelines, South Korea can now possess ballistic missiles with a range up to 800 kilometers (500 miles) with a payload of 500 kilograms, or a heavier payload for missiles with shorter ranges, with the guidelines permitting an inverse tradeoff between distance and weight such that a 550km missile can now carry a 1,000 kg payload. The agreement also permits the ROK to operate drone aircraft having a range of 300 km (186 miles) with payloads up to 2,500 kilograms (5,510 pounds), as well as shorter-range UAVs with no restrictions on their payloads.

The new guidelines, the first change in more than a decade, allow the ROK to station ballistic missiles much further from the DMZ and still strike all DPRK territory. Their reduced vulnerability increases crisis stability since the ROK command would feel less of an urgent need to use them before losing them to a DPRK attack that could catch them in their launch pads.

In addition to augmenting the ROK’s deterrence capabilities, the longer-range missiles could supplement ROK missile defenses by preemptively limiting the damage to South Korea in any war by allowing ROK defenders to rapidly neutralize North Korea’s nuclear and conventional strike capabilities. In particular, the ROK’s ballistic missiles can more effectively destroy the DPRK’s mobile or underground missiles that are about to be launched. For the same reason, the larger and heavier reconnaissance and combat UAVs can remain above North Korea in wartime and use its own missiles against any fleeting DPRK targets as well as guide longer-range ROK missiles towards them.

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