The guidelines were signed between defense ministers from the two nations via letters in 1979 and have been maintained for 33 years, with the first revision being made in 2001.
Under the 2001 revision, South Korea’s missile capability is constrained to 300km in range and 500kg in payload. Furthermore, South Korea is not allowed to own any combat aerial vehicles other than unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), and to use a rocket using solid fuel for civilian purposes. Seoul and Washington have engaged in second revision negotiations since January, 2011, but have failed to bridge the gap between their positions.
As a result, public sentiment that the bilateral agreement should be scrapped is growing. Some are fiercely opposing the deal, claiming that the US is excessively restricting Korea’s sovereignty.
Seoul is asking Washington to amend the deal to include an extended missile range in order to bolster its ballistic missile capability, which is much weaker than North Koreas. North Korea has focused its resources on missile development since the 1970s. As a result, since the 1990s, it has churned out Scud-C ballistic missiles with a range of 500km and a payload of 770kg. Furthermore, it has deployed Rodong-1 missiles with a range of 1,300km and Rodong-2 missiles with a range of 100km. Recently the North has been focusing on the development of a Taepodong-class missile with the range of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
On the contrary, South Korea developed its first 180km range ballistic missile, known as the NHK-1, in 1979. However, it was not until 2001 that the nation was allowed to place the Hyunmoo-2 with a range of 300km and a payload of 500kg. This is attributed to the restrictions on missile development. In an effort to overcome the weakness of its short-range missiles, South Korea developed new cruise missiles – the Hyunmoo-3/A, the Hyunmoo-3/B, and the Hyunmoo-3/C – with a range of 500 to 1,500km. However, these missiles are much weaker than ballistic missiles.
“Argument that the Extension of Missile Range Could Provoke Neighboring Countries Is a Lie”
Among other issues, Seoul and Washington remain sharply divided on the maximum range of South Korea’s ballistic missile. The US is against extending the range of Korean missiles to 1,000km, saying such a move could provoke China and Japan.
However, Dr. Jung Kyu-soo, who formerly worked with the Agency for Defense Development (ADD), said, “The domino of developing missile or rocket technologies was already over here long time ago with China, Japan, Russia and North Korea joining the competition. South Korea is just a small remained piece of the domino.”
Koo Bon-hak, a professor at Hallym University of Graduate Studies, stated, “North Korea is deploying 1,300km range missiles, and China and Japan already have the technologies to make ICBMs. Therefore, extending our missile range to 800 to 1,000km does not affect tension in the region. In addition, we are now in a standoff with the North. Under such circumstances, the missile range issue is one about our sovereignty. Therefore, we basically have the freedom to decide on this matter.”
Shin Beom-chul, a research fellow at the North Korean Military Research Division of the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses (KIDA), said, “Extending our missile range does not violate any international law because it is part of a legitimate right to defend ourselves against existing threats from North Korea.” Dr. Park, Chang-kyu, former president of the ADD, said, “Our missile development should no longer be bogged down by the bilateral agreement. The cancellation of the guidelines and the Korea-US alliance are separate issues.”
The strong voice for “sovereignty” and the “self-defense right” partly stems from long-held perceptions about KORUS relations. More specifically, the US has unfairly retained an absolutely favorable and dominant position over South Korea in bilateral relations, and the missile guidelines are a byproduct of this unfair relationship. Under the first revision of the guidelines, South Korea was required to notify the US in advance about the name, location, and annual output of production facilities of new ballistic and cruise missiles, not to mention information about all related resources. In return, the US is required to transfer core missile technologies in phases to South Korea. However, the US has not passed on any of its advanced technologies to its ally, causing a huge controversy.
Korea and US Remain Sharply Divided on Missile Range
However, the US strongly claims that its objection is part of efforts to prevent missiles and other strategic weapons from proliferating around the world. If South Korea is allowed to extend its missile range, then it would be impossible to maintain this system, the argument goes.
In addition, the US claims that it can deter North Korea’s provocation through the KORUS alliance. The argument is that South Korea does not have to speed up in terms of development of missiles because the Korea-US allied defense forces have a much stronger weapons system than ballistic missiles. John H. Tilelli, former Commander of U.S. Forces Korea (from 1996 to 1999), recently said “What is really important is what the KORUS defense system has as its combat capabilities, not what South Korea has as its independent defense system.”
Such a position by the US was shown at a joint press conference held after the Korea-US summit on March 25. US President Barack Obama said, “There are many things to be dealt with at the military level, including various technical problems. This is about what we need in order to achieve the eternal goal of our alliance.”
Limitless Extension of Missile Range Not Necessary
With this controversy growing, many military experts are saying that there is a need to extend the missile range to a reasonable level, yet simply scrapping the guidelines is not a magic bullet either. They say that Seoul needs to persuade Washington to extend the missile range enough to defend against security threats from the North.
Lee Jong-koo, the former defense minister, said, “It is desirable to invalidate the missile guidelines, but we should not dismiss the impact renegotiations over them will have on the KORUS alliance. Therefore, we should lay out ways that will minimize any negative consequences and which the US can accept.”
Park Yong-oak, a former vice minister of the National Defense, who participated in negotiations for the first revision, said, “South Korea needs to persuade the US that its national security environment has definitely changed from 33 years ago, when the missile guidelines were first established, and that South Korea’s improved missile capabilities will consolidate the KORUS alliance and more effectively deter provocation from the North.” He added, “The government should stress that the US needs to use our bolstered missile strength as a leverage to pressure China. The US should make China feel that the latter’s failure to prevent North Korea from making military and nuclear threats has led to South Korea’s stronger missile capabilities.”
Jung Young-seok, emeritus professor at the Department of Political Science & International Relations at Dankook University, said, “Extending the missile range also benefits the US. It serves as a deterrent against provocation from the North as well as serves as a measure to contain China and Russia.” He went on to say that Seoul and Washington should take this opportunity as a win-win strategy to further strengthen their blood brotherhood. He added, “The US should not be bogged down by strong protests from China and Japan or by double standards for other nations in dealing with extending the missile range. It should face our unique circumstances and understand our position. It should also not dismiss Koreans’ pride for their nation.
Amid the growing controversy, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin’s remarks have drawn attention . At a security seminar held in the National Press Club, Washington, D.C., on July 12 (local time), Chairman Levin said, “If South Korea implements the work in a non-threatening and self-defensive manner, and does that with its own money, I think there’s nothing wrong with it.”