|Mock missiles on display at a museum in S Korea|
South Korea announced on Sunday it had reached a new agreement with the U.S. that allows it to substantially extend the range of its ballistic missiles to 800 km and to greatly increase the payload of shorter-range missiles. The move, which has been described as a means to increase South Korea’s deterrence capability vis-à-vis North Korea, could make other countries within the region, particularly Taiwan, seek a similar lifting of restrictions.
A 2001 accord signed between Seoul and Washington prevented the South Korean military from developing ballistic missiles with ranges of more than 300km and payloads exceeding 500kg (prior to that agreement, the maximum range was 180km, but North Korea’s test-firing of a Taepodong-1 missile over Japan in 1998 encouraged the change). The 2001 arrangement, which reflected the guidelines stipulated in the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), a voluntary mechanism principally meant to curb nuclear proliferation and the means to deliver nuclear warheads, held for years as Washington feared lifting it would spark an arms race in Asia.
Pyongyang’s continued efforts to develop long-range missiles and nuclear technology, however, appear to have convinced the U.S. of the virtues of having its local ally bolster its own deterrence capabilities.
My article, published today in The Diplomat, continues here.
UPDATE: Reacting to the announcement, North Korea on Tuesday said the new agreement showed that Seoul and the US were plotting to invade the North as part of a conspiracy to ignite a war. The National Defense Commission said it would consequently bolster its military preparedness, while reminding Washington that it had missiles capable of reaching the US mainland.