1) What has been revised in the joint military pact between Korea and
the U.S.? (in terms of the country’s missile capabilities?)
The recent missile range pact between the U.S. and ROK allows for the extension of South Korea’s ballistic missile range from the current striking distance of 300km to 800 kilometers.
What this means is that – with a strike range of 800 kilometers – South Korea’s missiles would have the capability to strike most, if not all, targets within North Korea, including its Yongbyon nuclear facility.
North Korea’s ballistic missiles have the potential to strike most, if not all, targets within South Korea. The DPRK is also developing its Taepodong-2 ballistic missile technology, which some estimate to have a strike range of up to 10,000 kilometers. This range would make a strike target as far away as Hawaii possible.
2) Why has Seoul strongly called for the revision?
South Korea has wanted the ballistic missile pact revision to broaden its missile protection capabilities. Other related reasons could include:
– Recent North Korean aggressions in and around the DPRK-ROK border, including attacks/aggressions against Yeonpyeong Island in 2010 and an earlier attack on a South Korean warship, the Cheonan, which killed 46 servicemen
– Increasing inter-Korean political uncertainty regarding Kim Jong-Un, North Korea’s recently appointed leader. Little is known about him. And given his relative lack of military experience and youth (late 20s), the likelihood of potential internal insurrection may be seen as uncertain and thus riskier. Based in part on such uncertainty, the ROK’s defense ministry has called for a 5.1% military budget increase
– From a domestic political perspective, a push for greater missile capabilities before South Korea’s upcoming December 19 presidential elections may be a strategic pre-emptive move to mitigate the risk that South Korea’s next president may not be from the same conservative ruling party (Saenuri). Of the three top presidential candidates, two of the three (Moon Jae-in of the DUP party, and Ahn Chul-soo an independent candidate) would most likely support a relatively more dovish/pro-DPRK policy stance.
3) Washington has been reluctant to alter the pact for a significant
period of time. Could the revised agreement undermine Japan and the U.S.’s initiatives of non-proliferation and arms control?
First, from the U.S. perspective, on the one hand, it is in the process of increasing its security pivot more towards Asia, which serves as a notable security presence to Pyongyang and Beijing.
Second, yes, the revised agreement could undermine Japan and the U.S.’s initiatives towards non-proliferation and arms control in the region (which has been especially tumultuous recently, due to increased tensions based on disputed island territories involving China, South Korea, and Japan).
What the U.S. wants to avoid is an Asian arms race – what can be called a twenty-first century “Confucian Cold War” in which Japan decides to reconstitute its nuclear technology for military use. This would mean that Tokyo’s leadership would put forth the process towards amending its post-War constitution, which at present, provides for its military to be used for defensive purposes only, or alternatively, taking a relatively broad interpretation of “defensive purposes” to include, but not be limited to, such things as protecting its national interests abroad (rather than purely domestically).
It is important to not understate the potential for Japan to convert its nuclear capabilities for military use in a relatively short time period, if provoked to do so.
4) Briefly tell us about North Korea’s missile capabilities and how
strong of a threat it is to the security of the Northeast Asian region
as well as the Korean peninsula.
– BALLISTIC MISSILES: 800 (estimated total)
– POTENTIAL LONG-RANGE MISSILE CAPABILITIES: TAEPO-DONG 2 (which can conceivably reach targets as far as 10,000 kilometers from the missile’s launch pad)
– NUCLEAR WARHEADS: 6 to 8 (as publicly announced by the DPRK). Speculation exists that the DPRK has the capability to produce more nuclear warheads, which it may be doing at present.
– ARMY: 1,000,000-plus (estimated). Although the sheer size of the DPRK’s military is noteworthy, it is highly possible that most of its army are not as well-equipped as ROK and U.S. military forces that it will meet in the event of a conflict.
5) What is North Korea’s likely reaction to the revision?
One of North Korea’s greatest weapons is an invisible one – being predictably unpredictable and unpredictably irrational.
Although no one really can know with great specificity, given that the DPRK is a black box of sorts in terms of available information, what can be said is that it is more a question of “when” than “if” North Korea will antagonize South Korea and its allies. Such behavior may come in the form of military and/or paramilitary and/or cyberattacks, particularly before, during, and possibly after South Korea’s upcoming presidential elections.
See the Global Times op-ed piece here by Jasper Kim on this topic.