South Korea to step up missile defense after North’s test

South Korea to step up missile defense after North’s test

SEOUL / WASHINGTON - Agence France-Presse
South Korea to step up missile defense after North’s test

South Korean soldiers patrol near the demilitarized zone. North Korea has conducted its third nuclear test in defiance of UN resolutions. REUTERS photo

South Korea said it would accelerate the development of longer-range ballistic missiles that could cover the whole of North Korea in response to a third nuclear test by Pyongyang, while the U.S. president said his country would lead the world in responding North Korea’s nuclear threat.

“We will speed up the development of ballistic missiles with a range of 800 kilometers,” Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-Seok told reporters.

In October last year, South Korea reached a deal with the United States to almost triple the range of its missile systems, with Seoul arguing it needed an upgrade to counter the North’s missile and nuclear programs.

Obama vows to fight against weapons

The United States has 28,500 troops in South Korea and guarantees a nuclear “umbrella” in case of any atomic attack. In return, Seoul accepts limits on its missile capabilities. Prior to the October agreement, the South was restricted to missiles with a range of 300 kilometers.

The extension will not only bring the whole of North Korea within reach of Seoul’s rockets, but also parts of China and Japan. Some experts have suggested it would provide the South with a pre-emptive strike facility against the North’s nuclear installations. Kim said the South would also speed up the deployment of a “kill chain” system capable of detecting, targeting and destroying North Korean missiles. In Washington, U.S. President Barack Obama vowed “firm action” alongside U.S. allies against North Korea and South Korea accelerated a planned upgrade to its offensive missiles after Pyongyang ignited global fury with its third nuclear test.

In his State of the Union address to Congress on Feb.12, Obama stepped up the rhetoric. “America will continue to lead the effort to prevent the spread of the world’s most dangerous weapons,” he said.