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(EDITORIAL from Korea Herald on May 25)

Editorials from Korean dailies 07:14 May 25, 2021

Missile sovereignty
: Termination of guidelines to beef up South Korea's military position

South Korea has regained its "missile sovereignty" after 42 years. In a joint statement announced after their first summit in Washington on Friday, President Moon Jae-in and US President Joe Biden declared a joint decision to terminate the guidelines that have long restricted Seoul's development of missiles.

First signed in 1979 and revised four times, the guidelines put limits on South Korea's missile development program.

The accord was introduced under the Park Chung-hee government to secure the transfer of missile technology from the US. In return, Seoul agreed to limit the range and payload of its ballistic missiles to 180 kilometers and 500 kilograms, respectively.

Through ensuing revisions, the range was extended to 800 kilometers with the payload restriction lifted. In the latest revision, made public in July 2020, Seoul won Washington's approval for the development of solid-propellant space rockets. This time, the 800-kilometer range limit disappeared.

Now it has become possible for South Korea to develop missiles with an intermediate range of 2,000 to 3,000 kilometers and even intercontinental ballistic missiles with a range of more than 5,500 kilometers. While South Korea's hands and feet were tied, North Korea developed ICBMs that could hit the American mainland. With the restrictions lifted, South Korea's military position is expected to become much stronger. The government ought to go all out to narrow the missile technology gap with North Korea.

Missiles with a range of 2,000 to 3,000 kilometers can strike most strategic targets in China. This means the United States can achieve its aim of keeping China in check even without deploying intermediate-range missiles to South Korea.

Above all, it is historically significant that South Korea has secured the right to develop its own missiles without restrictions.

An essential condition for a country's continued survival is a military power to protect its people and its territory. Strictly speaking, it is not normal for one country to restrain another from developing missiles, among the most important strategic military assets. Considering that a state's national defense can influence the power of its diplomatic negotiations, the end of the guidelines is expected to empower Seoul to build up its diplomatic competency as well.

The fact that China comes within the range of South Korea's missiles will certainly bother Beijing, though it is extremely unlikely that Seoul would ever strike Beijing. In this light, the removal of the restrictions on missile development may hurt Seoul's relations with Beijing.

The elimination of the missile guidelines will also enable South Korea to compete with other countries on an equal footing in the field of civilian aerospace, a strategic industry. The development of military missile technologies will influence that of space rocket technology.

When it extends the range of its missiles or develops space rockets, South Korea will have to make diplomatic efforts to persuade neighboring countries that they are needed for the defense of the nation and for civilian research on space. It needs to use wise strategies to accumulate technology without upsetting its neighbors excessively.

North Korea and China have not specifically mentioned the termination of the guidelines yet. They will likely react sensitively. North Korea has almost reflexively condemned South Korea's steps to strengthen its military. China may express caution against South Korea, suspecting that Seoul may be part of the US-led front against Beijing. It will likely try to estrange Seoul from Washington.

Pyongyang insists that it has developed nuclear weapons and missiles for self-defense and deterrence, but that is not true. It stubbornly ignores sanctions from the international community and keeps upgrading its missiles. China protects the North. Pyongyang and Beijing have no right to take issue with the termination of the guidelines and with South Korea's missile development.

South Korea can protect its security and peace when it can show neighboring powers that it can inflict corresponding damage if they threaten it.

The termination of the missile guidelines is a step forward to strengthen South Korea's deterrence against the North.

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