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Allies to respond to N.K. provocations

Defense minister says working-level talks under way to extend ballistic missile range


South Korea and the U.S. have agreed to complete the establishment of an operational plan to jointly respond to North Korea’s localized provocations by the end of this year, the Defense Ministry said Monday.

The plan is expected to allow South Korea to utilize the U.S. military support in an effective, timely manner, should the belligerent state launch another provocation on its southern neighbor.

The South has so far responded to the communist state’s provocations independently. Last year the North had unleashed two unprovoked attacks that killed 50 South Koreans including two civilians.

The ministry revealed the plan in its documents submitted to the National Assembly’s defense committee for the parliamentary inspection.

For the smooth implementation of the envisioned plan, the ministry has complemented some of the military documents such as a plan to defend the northwestern frontline islands, some crisis response rules and the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s plan to deal with North Korean infiltrations and provocations, the ministry said.

“We will give shape to the concept of how each unit should respond to enemy provocations and the procedures to strike ― differentiated at each level (of the provocations),” it said.

“South Korea and the U.S. will develop a joint list of signs of provocations to make their judgment based on it. To deal with the threat to the security of the frontline islands, the allies are seeking to hold joint marine maneuvers of a company level.”

The ministry has also decided to enable the Marine Corps commandant to lead the operations to protect the border islands and their coastal areas.

For that, it needs to alter the current military operational guidelines that define responsibilities and authorities for the marine chief and the commander of the Navy’s Second Fleet.

The current rule states that marines are to protect the islands and areas within a two-kilometer distance off the coast during peacetime or when low-intensity conflicts occur. The Navy’s Second Fleet Command is to take charge of the areas outside the two-kilometer distance.

This rule has often caused confusion over the responsibilities of the Navy and the marines as it focuses on areas of operations rather than on which armed service will perform better in what scenario.

The ministry also said that it has decided to consider dispatching South Korea’s engineer unit of some 275 troops to South Sudan as part of the peacekeeping forces. It will send an onsite inspection team to study the conditions there from the end of this month until early next month.

The dispatch consideration comes following a recent request by U.N. Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon.

Also during the inspection, Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin said that “working-level” discussions are taking place between Seoul and Washington over the revision of the bilateral ballistic missile agreement.

“We are making ‘technical contacts’ (with the U.S.) to enable the missile range to cover the entire peninsula,” he said.

Under a 2001 revision to the initial agreement, which Seoul signed in 1979 with Washington, South Korea is banned from developing ballistic missiles with a range of over 300 kilometers. It also stipulates that a payload must weigh 500 kilograms or less.

Despite concerns that the development of longer-range missiles could provoke neighboring countries such as China, Russia and Japan, some experts and military officials here believe that the range should be extended to around 1,000 kilometers to bring all of North Korea’s territory within striking range.

North Korea currently has ballistic missiles with a maximum range of 3,000-4,000 kilometers deployed in its military units. However, Seoul only has indigenous Hyunmoo-I and II missiles with a range of 180-300 kilometers and U.S.-made ATACMS missiles with a range of 165-300 kilometers.

By Song Sang-ho (sshluck@heraldcorp.com)
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