The US is to allow its ally South Korea develop ballistic missiles with more than double the range it is allowed to deploy today, reports say. The proliferation-harming move is meant as a reaction to Pyongyang’s military build-up.
The future announcement on Sunday by the Korean government will present the move in response to North Korea’s ballistic missile program, reports Reuters citing a US State Department notice to lawmakers.
Seoul has been seeking permission for years to expand the range limit for its ballistic missiles from the current 300km. The limit was set by a military alliance pact with the US, which hosts some 28,500 of its troops in Korea and is obliged to intervene militarily should the country be attacked.
Earlier, South Korean new agency Yonhap reported that Seoul would be allowed to deploy missiles with the range of up to 800km. This is likely to give a second thought to North Korea, but also to China and Japan, which would be within range of 800km South Korean missiles.
The deal is believed to maintain the current limit on the payload for Korean missiles at 500kg.
The range boost would benefit outgoing President Lee Myung-bak’s Conservative Party during the December presidential election. Lee is banned from re-election by the constitution, but a major diplomatic victory in the last months of his presidency would build voter confidence and help the party remain in power, Yonhap said.
Arms-control advocates are likely to be unhappy with the deal, which violates a voluntary international arms-control pact known as the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). The pact urges its 34 members, including most major missile manufacturers, to restrict export of missile and drone aircraft technologies, which outreach 500kg payload and 300km range limits.
“Agreeing for any country to develop 800km range missiles, well outside the MTCR limits, would be a big mistake,”told Reuters Greg Thielmann, who formerly took part in intelligence assessments on ballistic missile threats at the State Department’s intelligence bureau and is now with the private Arms Control Association in Washington.
Proponents of the boost argue that other regional powers, including North Korea, China and Japan, have developed their missile forces well beyond the restrictions taken on itself by Seoul.
South Korea estimates that Pyongyang’s arsenal includes missiles with a range of up to 3,000 kilometers, although the exact capabilities of the weapons remain secret. Skeptics say the North’s long-range rocket science and engineering are mediocre at best, citing the failed launches over the years. Read more