U.S. Agrees to S. Korea Extending Its Ballistic Missile Range

South Korean Senior Presidential Secretary Chun Yung Woo
Chun Yung Woo, South Korean senior presidential secretary for foreign affairs and national security. Photographer: Seokyong Lee/Bloomberg

The U.S. agreed to South Korea extending the range of its ballistic missiles to 800 kilometers (497 miles) against possible nuclear and missile attacks from North Korea.

The two countries agreed on Oct. 5 to amend a 2001 accord that allows the South to develop and deploy missiles with a range of 300 kilometers, Chun Yung Woo, senior presidential secretary for foreign affairs and national security, said yesterday in a statement on President Lee Myung Bak’s website.

“The South Korean government’s most important reason for this amendment is to deter any armed provocation from North Korea,” Chun said in the statement. “If North Korea carries out an attack or a provocation, we will be able to destroy North Korea’s nuclear missile capabilities in advance.”

The conclusion to the negotiations, which began last year, came six months after North Korea’s new leader Kim Jong Un fired a long-range rocket aimed at putting a satellite into space. The unsuccessful launch cost the impoverished totalitarian regime a food aid deal with the U.S., and raised regional concerns of a follow-up nuclear detonation.

While the amendment now allows key North Korean military facilities to be targeted, it also limits the payload to 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds) for missiles traveling as far as 800 kilometers. Unmanned aerial vehicles, known commonly as drones, will be able to carry warheads weighing up to 2,500 kilograms for targets located beyond 300 kilometers.

Soldier Defects

Separately, Kim urged vigilance from the security ministry, the official Korean Central News Agency reported on the same day a soldier in his army shot two officers and defected to the South.

“The Ministry of State Security has a very important duty to perform to protect the sovereignty of the country and the nation,” KCNA quoted Kim as saying Oct. 6 while viewing a statue of his late father at the ministry. A North Korean soldier fled across the Demilitarized Zone at around noon the same day, after shooting his platoon and squad leaders, South Korea’s defense ministry said.

Kim became head of the totalitarian state in December, following the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, who ruled the secretive nation from 1994 to 2011. He took the country’s top rank of marshal in July, the final step to secure his power as leader of the impoverished nation’s 1.2 million-strong armed forces. The promotion came days after Kim sacked veteran army chief Ri Yong Ho, in the biggest publicly revealed power shift since his succession.

Economic Development

Kim has named economic development as the socialist country’s top focus, in a departure from his father’s so-called “military first” policy, which prioritized defense issues.

More than 2,700 North Koreans fled to the South last year, raising the total number of defectors from the regime to 23,100 as of the end of 2011, according to the most recent estimate from the South’s Ministry of Unification in January.

The two Koreas technically remain at war after the 1950-1953 conflict ended without a peace treaty. The U.S. military has since maintained a presence on the South Korean side of the peninsula, holding wartime operational control. More than 28,500 U.S. soldiers are currently stationed in the South.

The North, which twice detonated nuclear devices, in 2006 and 2009, has more than 250 long-range artillery installations along the Demilitarized Zone, the world’s most fortified border.

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