The Ministry of National Defense said Saturday that it currently has no plan to join the U.S.-led Missile Defense system. But it said Seoul would seek to strengthen cooperation between the system and the Korea Air Missile Defense program to better deal with North Korean nuclear threats.
“South Korea and the U.S. will discuss intelligence sharing and operation of means regarding the missile defense system so as to protect the Korean Peninsula from the threats of North Korean nuclear weapons and its weapons of mass destruction at the Extended Deterrence Policy Committee,” said the ministry in a statement.
“This does not mean that we will join the MD (U.S. missile defense system). This means we will strengthen cooperation with the U.S. Forces Korea in the sharing of intelligence and operation of available assets to effectively respond to threats from North Korean ballistic missiles.”
At the 42nd Security Consultative Meeting in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 8, Defense Minister Kim Tae-young and his counterpart Robert Gates agreed to establish the special committee that will serve as a cooperation channel to improve the effectiveness of the extended deterrence, which means enhanced U.S. nuclear commitment for its ally.
It was the first time for the U.S. to agree on founding a standing cooperative committee concerning the extended deterrence with its ally except for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The U.S. had applied the extended deterrence to the NATO against threats from strategic and tactical nuclear weapons of the former Soviet Union.
“In the past, the U.S. MD focused primarily on protecting its mainland. However, the concept of the MD has changed into a regional missile defense system,” said a ministry official on condition of anonymity. “We will seek to strengthen cooperation related to the missile defense with the U.S. so that we can better protect the peninsula.”
The South’s KAMD is designed to protect the peninsula against the North’s short-range missiles while the U.S. system is mainly aimed at countering threats from mid- and long-range ballistic missiles.
During a parliamentary audit of the ministry on Friday, Defense Minister Kim said that the government was “seriously” reviewing whether to join the U.S. missile defense system, pointing out that the system deals with regional security rather than only aiming to protect the United States.
His remarks stoked speculation that Seoul may be reviewing the idea of participating in the U.S. system.
The South has been cautious about joining it as it could provoke other regional powers such as China and Russia, and stir up controversy. Critics argue that the U.S. program cannot be effectively applied to the peninsular situation given its geographical features and other conditions.
By Song Sang-ho (firstname.lastname@example.org)