After North Korea’s Missile Test, South Korea Agrees to Build Up Its Own Ballistic Missiles

A photo from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency shows the intercontinental ballistic missile launched from an undisclosed site in the North.
Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The United States agreed to start negotiations to allow South Korea to build more powerful ballistic missiles to counter North Korea’s rapidly advancing missile technologies, the office of the South’s president said Saturday.

President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, long considered a dovish leader, called for arms-buildup talks with Washington hours after the North launched an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, that experts said had a long enough range to reach the West Coast of the United States and potentially Chicago and New York. The White House quickly accepted the proposal, Mr. Moon’s office said.

Mr. Moon’s top national security adviser, Chung Eui-yong, called his White House counterpart, Gen. H. R. McMaster, early on Saturday Seoul time to propose that the allies immediately start negotiations to allow South Korea to build up its missile capabilities. General McMaster agreed to the proposal, which would likely involve increasing the payload on South Korea’s ballistic missiles, officials said.

Under the terms of a bilateral treaty, South Korea needs approval from the United States to build such stronger missiles.

Earlier on Saturday, Mr. Moon had ordered his government to cooperate with the United States to install an advanced American missile defense battery known as Thaad, whose deployment in South Korea had been suspended since he took office in May.

Mr. Moon’s actions signaled that the growing missile threat from North Korea was spurring an arms buildup in Northeast Asia. Japan earlier said that it was considering buying ballistic missile defense systems from the United States.

But China has adamantly opposed installing Thaad in South Korea, arguing that doing so would only heighten tensions with North Korea and could undermine China’s own nuclear deterrent by giving the United States another means to monitor its missiles.

On Saturday, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the resumed deployment of Thaad, issuing a statement that was slightly longer, and more strongly worded, than its statement earlier in the day criticizing North Korea’s missile test.

“China is gravely concerned with the course of action taken by South Korea,” a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, Geng Shuang, said in the statement. “Deploying Thaad won’t solve South Korea’s security concerns, won’t solve the related issues on the Korean Peninsula and will only further complicate issues.”

Missile analysts remain uncertain and even doubtful that North Korea has cleared all the technical hurdles to building a reliable nuclear-tipped ICBM. But the test on Friday left little doubt that the country, although cut off from most of the global economy and hit with several rounds of United Nations sanctions, was getting closer to its goal of arming itself with long-range missiles that can deliver nuclear warheads to the United States.

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SOURCE: NY Times, Choe Sang-Hun