Seoul and Washington agree to Korean Air and Missile Defense

Posted on : 2012-06-16 12:42 KST Modified on : 2012-06-16 12:42 KST
US-South Korean expansions in East Asia could provoke China’s growing military
 June 14. (Yonhap News)
June 14. (Yonhap News)

By Kwon Tae-ho, Washington correspondent and Park Byong-su staff reporter

Seoul and Washington made plans at a meeting of foreign and defense ministers June 14 to work together on extending defense capabilities in response to North Korea’s recent long-range ballistic missile development.

In a joint statement issued after the so-called “2+2 talks” between their foreign and defense ministers at the US State Department complex on June 14, the two countries said they had agreed to develop a “comprehensive alliance approach”. By this, they meant not only extending the permitted firing range of South Korean missiles and building a missile defense system but also establishing detection, identification, strike, and flight capabilities.

“It means building a South Korea-led missile defense system against North Korean missile attacks, with the US providing intelligence and detection support,” explained a government official.

Analysts said the decision signifies a de facto agreement to build the “Korean Air and Missile Defense (KAMD)” system the two sides have long been discussing. The KAMD differs from the global US-led missile defense system in that it is restricted to the Korean Peninsula. But some observers are suggesting that in the long run it could lead to a US-led MD system, since the system construction and equipment and technology support for it are based on discussions with Washington.

The Korean Peninsula was not the only topic at the talks. Also discussed were issues involving Japan, China, Russia, Myanmar, Iran, and Afghanistan. Both countries reaffirmed the US‘s pledge to protect the peninsula against North Korea, while also sending a message to China by strengthening security cooperation with Japan and welcoming India’s Look East policy.

Discussions in the area of regional cooperation continued the trend of the US’s growing “return to Asia” strategy, which began last year. Analysts are predicting this will add to growing fears in Beijing that the KAMD system is linked with the building of a US-led MD system.

In terms of content, South Korea willingly went along with the US’s Northeast Asia strategy, which stands a strong chance of provoking China. It is unclear what it got in return, though, aside from a message of warning to Pyongyang.

Indeed, the statement made no mention at all of extending the maximum firing range for South Korean missiles, a focus of major attention ahead of the June 14 talks. Sources reported that the two sides did not discuss the issue in any great detail, but US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta did make reference to “making good progress” on this area at the press conference afterwards.

Instead, the two sides kept the issue separate by saying the minister had agreed on plans for a stronger “comprehensive alliance approach” against the growing North Korean missile threat. No specifics were given on what this approach might entail, but many observers said it meant the development of the KAMD, for which the two countries signed an agreement for joint research in Sept. 2010.

With the KAMD, any missile fired from North Korea would be intercepted by sea with an SM3 from the Aegis-equipped destroyer Sejong the Great, or by land with a Patriot PAC-2. The South Korean military plans to obtain the necessary equipment and weapons by 2020 for the system, including a surveillance/reconnaisance system, a strike system, an interception system, and cleanup capabilities. The Korea Development Institute and the US Defense Department‘s Missile Defense Angency, which are collaborating on the research, are known to have already held several meetings of planning and analysis personnel to discuss development plans, including technical and strategic analyses.

But questions are being raised as to whether this marks a step toward South Korea’s incorporation into the US‘s MD system. A Ministry of National Defense official denied this, saying the MD system South Korea is pursuing “has long been in the works as a means of lower-tier defense” and is unconnected with the US system.

But some observers are still saying the potential exists for the South Korea-developed system to be linked at a later date as a lower-tier system in the US MD system currently being built.

Indeed, the US Congressional Research Service hinted that discussions are under way toward South Korea joining the system in a report early this month on US-South Korea relations. In a section on talks toward extending missile firing range, the report said, “Some observers suggest that a compromise might be struck in terms of South Korea’s maximum range, as well as agreement to develop joint efforts on missile defense.”

Kim Jong-dae, editor-in-chief of the military affairs journal Defense 21, said the building of an MD system was likely to gain momentum with the agreement at the talks to strengthen an alliance approach.

“But there are worries that we could end up provoking Beijing unless we can allay suspicions that we are planning to join the US missile defense system,” Kim added.

Please direct questions or comments to []

button that move to original korean article (클릭시 원문으로 이동하는 버튼)

Most viewed articles