36 North Korea’s Nu­clear Re­al­ity, South Korea’s Arms Anx­i­ety

Global Asia - - CONTENTS - By Se­ung-chan Boo

seoul’s se­cu­rity fears as the stakes are raised ever higher have prompted it to pour re­sources into arms.

North Korea’s suc­cess­ful de­vel­op­ment of a nu­cle­armis­sile ca­pa­bil­ity over the last 25 years height­ens fears in South Korea that the US could even­tu­ally abandon its com­mit­ment to ex­tended de­ter­rence as the back­bone of its se­cu­rity.

This prompts South Korea to pour re­sources into an arms race on the Korean Penin­sula. The fears are not new, writes Se­ungchan Boo, but the im­me­di­acy and po­tency of the threat have raised the stakes with no so­lu­tion in sight. the list OF north Korea’s nu­clear weapons “ac­com­plish­ments” is con­sid­er­able: six nu­clear tests, in­creased ca­pa­bil­i­ties, sub­ma­rine-launched and land-based bal­lis­tic mis­siles, the test-fir­ing of in­ter­me­di­ate and in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­siles that can at­tack Guam, hawaii and the main­land us. all of this has led para­mount leader Kim Jong un to de­clare that the coun­try has be­come a nu­clear-arms power.

these strides have been made in the 25 years since the first north Korean nu­clear cri­sis in 1993. De­spite mas­sive in­ter­na­tional out­rage and pres­sure, the coun­try’s nu­clear threat is no longer just a prob­a­bil­ity. One ex­pert has es­ti­mated that north Korea will have up to 100 nu­clear weapons by the end of 2020.1 and the scope of the threat is ex­pand­ing from south Korea and Ja­pan to the us.

the ques­tion on many minds is why does north Korea con­tinue to de­velop nu­clear weapons de­spite tough sanc­tions and pres­sure from the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity? seem­ingly, for Py­ongyang, the costs in terms of iso­la­tion and out­rage are ac­cept­able. “It is a way to de­ci­sively in­crease the ef­fec­tive­ness of our de­fense ca­pac­ity with­out ad­di­tion­ally in­creas­ing na­tional de­fense ex­pen­di­tures,”2 Py­ongyang has said. the cal­cu­la­tion seems to be that it is im­pos­si­ble to bal­ance the con­stant us nu­clear threat and the south Kore­aus mil­i­tary al­liance with a con­ven­tional mil­i­tary build-up due to fi­nan­cial con­straints.

the en­hanced north Korean threat has pre­sented south Korea with new wor­ries over how to cope with the threat amid con­cerns that the us even­tu­ally may not com­ply with its se­cu­rity com­mit­ments to south Korea. When former French

Pres­i­dent Charles de Gaulle opted out of the north at­lantic treaty Or­ga­ni­za­tion (nato) and chose the path of nu­clear ar­ma­ment, he was con­cerned with “whether the us would sac­ri­fice new York to pro­tect Paris” in the 1960s. the ex­panded north Korean nu­clear mis­sile threat forces south Korea to face the dilemma of “whether the us would sac­ri­fice Guam or hawaii to pro­tect seoul.”

Former us Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s laud­able goal of a nu­clear-free world and no-firs­tuse nu­clear pol­icy, to­gether with the us pol­icy of “strate­gic pa­tience” to­ward north Korea, also deep­ened south Korea’s fear of al­liance aban­don­ment. ul­ti­mately, south Korea chose to min­i­mize its con­cerns about al­liance aban­don­ment by in­sti­tu­tion­al­iz­ing the us pro­vi­sion of ex­tended de­ter­rence,3 and it strate­gi­cally chose to in­de­pen­dently cope with north Korea’s nu­clear-mis­sile threat by in­creas­ing its own mil­i­tary power. south Korea has re­peat­edly un­der­lined its de­mand that the us gov­ern­ment guar­an­tee ex­tended de­ter­rence in the face of the threat from north Korea.

The re­al­ity of the North Korea nu­clear-mis­sile threat has not only made it dif­fi­cult for South Korea to es­cape from the al­liance dilemma, but also acted as the core driver for pur­su­ing in­creased mil­i­tary power. Ac­cord­ingly, it is dif­fi­cult for South Korea to get out of the arms-race swamp.

in­sti­tu­tion­al­iz­ing us EX­TENDED DE­TER­RENCE

un­der an asym­met­ri­cal al­liance struc­ture, it is rea­son­able for the weaker se­cu­rity part­ner to fear al­liance aban­don­ment by the stronger part­ner.4 south Korea is no ex­cep­tion. the strength of the south Korea-us al­liance lies first in a high level of in­sti­tu­tion­al­iza­tion; sec­ond, in shared demo­cratic sys­tems; and third, in the norm of reg­u­lat­ing al­liance pol­icy de­ci­sions ef­fec­tively on a longterm ba­sis.5 But the essence of seoul’s con­cern lies in wor­ries over whether the us will pro­vide ex­tended nu­clear de­ter­rence to its ally should north Korea use its nu­clear weapons.

In a re­cent opin­ion poll in south Korea, be­tween 53.5 per­cent and 68.2 per­cent of re­spon­dents sup­ported the de­ploy­ment of tac­ti­cal nu­clear weapons or hav­ing south Korea

de­velop its own nu­clear ar­mory. this re­flects south Korean wor­ries about the re­li­a­bil­ity of us se­cu­rity com­mit­ments.6 ac­cord­ingly, south Korea is con­tin­u­ing its ef­forts to in­sti­tu­tion­ally guar­an­tee us ex­tended de­ter­rence along with strength­en­ing its own mil­i­tary power.

south Korea wanted to ce­ment the us prom­ise of ex­tended de­ter­rence, which was men­tioned in the 1978 Joint state­ment of the an­nual us-south Korea De­fense Min­is­ters’ Meet­ing, in a for­mal doc­u­ment. Yet the us op­posed do­ing so. how­ever, south Korea’s hard work paid off. at the June 16, 2009, sum­mit meet­ing be­tween south Korea and the us, the prom­ise to pro­vide ex­tended de­ter­rence, in­clud­ing nu­clear ca­pa­bil­i­ties, which had pre­vi­ously been only a spo­ken com­mit­ment from the sit­ting us sec­re­tary of De­fense, was clearly writ­ten in the “Joint Vi­sion” doc­u­ment, this im­prov­ing its le­gal sta­tus.

In 2010, it was agreed to es­tab­lish the ex­tended De­ter­rence Pol­icy Com­mit­tee (EDPC) to en­hance the cred­i­bil­ity and ef­fec­tive­ness of ex­tended de­ter­rence, and to con­trib­ute to an ef­fec­tive joint de­fense pos­ture. In april 2015, EDPC and the Counter-mis­sile Ca­pa­bil­i­ties Com­mit­tee (CMCC) were in­te­grated into the us-rok De­ter­rence strat­egy Com­mit­tee (DSC). the us-rok For­eign and De­fense Min­is­ters (2+2) Meet­ing in Oc­to­ber 2016 fur­ther agreed to es­tab­lish the ex­tended De­ter­rence strat­egy Con­sul­ta­tion Group (EDSCG).7

Fur­ther­more, by hold­ing two meet­ings of the EDSCG, a strong de­fense com­mit­ment us­ing all cat­e­gories of us mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­ity was re­con­firmed and it was agreed that as long as the north Korean nu­clear mis­sile threat con­tin­ues, ro­ta­tional de­ploy­ment of us strate­gic as­sets in south Korea and neigh­bor­ing coun­tries will con­tinue, and an ex­tended de­ter­rence co-op­er­a­tion sys­tem will be strength­ened.8 De­spite these ef­forts, the re­al­ity of the north Korea nu­clear-mis­sile threat has not only made it dif­fi­cult for south Korea to es­cape from the al­liance dilemma, but also acted as the core driver for pur­su­ing in­creased mil­i­tary power. Con­se­quently, it is dif­fi­cult for south Korea to get out of the arms-race swamp.

build­ing a self-re­liant Mil­i­tary power

With the sign­ing of the Mu­tual De­fense treaty be­tween south Korea and the us in 1953, us ex­tended de­ter­rence be­came the back­bone of south Korean se­cu­rity. how­ever, as the se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion sur­round­ing the Korean Penin­sula changed with the dec­la­ra­tion of the nixon Doc­trine in 1969, which called on al­lies to play a greater role in their own de­fense, and north Korea’s fre­quent provocations in the late 1960s, seoul woke up to the need to build a stronger mil­i­tary. In 1970, the agency for De­fense De­vel­op­ment (ADD) was es­tab­lished to strengthen na­tional de­fense. un­der the su­per­vi­sion of ADD, the light­ning Project, which could be said to be the first real de­fense project in south Korea, was pro­moted. the light­ning Project, which be­gan in 1971, was in­tended by then Pres­i­dent Park Chung hee “to im­me­di­ately start de­vel­op­ing do­mes­tic weaponry and to make a pro­to­type be­fore the end of the year.”9 af­ter­ward, the south Korean gov­ern­ment pur­sued the top-se­cret Yul­gok Plan for mil­i­tary mod­ern­iza­tion through 1991. It con­tin­ued un­der dif­fer­ent names such as the Force Main­te­nance Pro­gram (1992-1996), De­fense Im­prove­ment Pro­gram (1997-1998), ac­qui­si­tion Pro­gram (1999-2001), Force In­vest­ment Pro­gram (2002-2005) and De­fense Im­prove­ment Pro­gram (2006-present).10 More­over, as in­di­cated in the graph op­po­site, south Korea re­sponded to north Korea’s strate­gic mis­sile de­vel­op­ment af­ter the sec­ond north Korean nu­clear cri­sis in 2002, spend­ing more than 151 tril­lion Korean won on de­fense.

In par­tic­u­lar, as north Korea’s nu­clear mis-

sile threat es­ca­lated, so did con­cerns about the re­li­a­bil­ity of the us ex­tended de­ter­rence. With the in­au­gu­ra­tion of the Park Geun-hye ad­min­is­tra­tion, south Korea de­cided to re­spond in­de­pen­dently to the north Korean mis­sile threat, seek­ing to de­ploy its “three-pronged de­fense sys­tem,” which has these el­e­ments: 1) the Killchain pre-emp­tive at­tack sys­tem; 2) the Korea air and Mis­sile De­fense (KAMD) sys­tem, and; 3) the Korea Mas­sive Pun­ish­ment and Re­tal­i­a­tion (KMPR) plan to re­spond to early signs of a north Korean nu­clear mis­sile at­tack. this frame­work, aimed to be com­pleted by mid-2020, is a mas­sive state project, in­volv­ing 46 forces in­clud­ing mil­i­tary re­con­nais­sance satel­lites, Muav (medi­u­malti­tude un­manned aerial ve­hi­cle)/huav (high­alti­tude un­manned aerial ve­hi­cle), long-range air-to-sur­face mis­siles, sur­face-to-sur­face bal­lis­tic mis­siles, long-range and mid-range sur­faceto-air mis­siles and spe­cial op­er­a­tions uav. the re­sources add up to about 57.4 tril­lion Korean won (see ta­ble 1 over­leaf).

be­yond the arms race to de­nu­cle­ariza­tion

since the divi­sion of the Korean Penin­sula in 1945, south Korea has lived with the fear of north Korea’s mil­i­tary threat. the same goes for north Korea. With such harsh threats, it has been im­pos­si­ble for ei­ther coun­try to break away from the arms race. since the mid-1970s, south Korea has been ahead of north Korea in the arms race, us­ing us aid and eco­nomic growth as a step­ping stone.11 how­ever, as a coun­ter­mea­sure, north Korea

fo­cused on asym­met­ri­cal forces such as nu­clear mis­siles. On the other hand, south Korea felt the need to be a self-re­liant mil­i­tary power, re­spond­ing to con­cerns about al­liance aban­don­ment and the north Korean threat. again, a fierce arms race is un­der way be­tween the two coun­tries.

the Korean Penin­sula has been in a state of height­ened cri­sis greater than at any other time in re­cent his­tory, with even a pre­ven­tive us at­tack be­ing dis­cussed. how­ever, it is not easy to choose a pre­ven­tive strike, which is the most se­vere mil­i­tary op­tion, to elim­i­nate north Korea’s nu­clear mis­sile threat. First, a pre­ven­tive at­tack is dif­fi­cult to jus­tify un­der in­ter­na­tional law; sec­ond, the pos­si­bil­ity of re­tal­i­a­tion from north Korea can­not be ig­nored, and; third, there is the pos­si­bil­ity that the at­tack may es­ca­late into an ex­panded war with un­pre­dictable con­se­quences. Yet south Korea’s three-pronged de­fense sys­tem can­not fully han­dle the north Korean nu­clear mis­sile threat. In­stead, it just spurs a vi­cious cy­cle of the arms race. as seen in the Pyeongchang Win­ter Olympics, although south Korea is try­ing to peace­fully solve the nu­clear cri­sis, north Korea and the us are both re­luc­tant to reach out. un­less the still-un­cer­tain trump-kim meet­ing oc­curs in May and gen­er­ates real progress, de­nu­cle­ariza­tion seems re­mote.

so how can the arms race be­tween the two Koreas be slowed down and moves to­ward de­nu­cle­ariza­tion be­gin? the an­swer lies in find­ing the un­der­ly­ing cause of north Korea’s ob­ses­sion with nu­clear-mis­sile de­vel­op­ment. the arms race can­not be tamped down be­cause, so far, an er­ro­neous di­ag­no­sis has led to the wrong pre­scrip­tions. south Korea, the us and north Korea have all ex­pe­ri­enced both pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive re­sults from at­tempts to deal with the prob­lems of north Korea. there are the pos­i­tive facets of his­tory be­tween south and north Korea, such as the July 4th south-north Joint Com­mu­nique in 1972; the con­clu­sion of the In­ter-korean Ba­sic agree­ment in 1991; and two sum­mit meet­ings in 2000 and 2007. For the us and north Korea, pos­i­tive his­tory in­cludes the Geneva agree­ment in 1994 and the leap Day agree­ment in 2012. all three coun­tries share the pos­i­tive his­tory of the septem­ber 19 Joint state­ment in 2005 and the Fe­bru­ary 13 agree­ment in 2007. Of course, all three share the tragic his­tory of the 1950-53 Korean War. as the philoso­pher Ge­orge san­tayana, pointed out, “those who can­not re­mem­ber the past are con­demned to re­peat it.” If a les­son can­not be found in his­tory, the ul­ti­mate des­ti­na­tion is war. there is never a win­ner in war. there are only losers who suf­fer enor­mous dam­age, and another loser that may suf­fer a lit­tle less.

dr. se­ung-chan boo is a re­search fel­low at the yon­sei in­sti­tute for North Korean stud­ies, yon­sei univer­sity. his cur­rent re­search fo­cuses on re­uni­fi­ca­tion and diplo­matic and se­cu­rity af­fairs be­tween south and North Korea. he is also work­ing for the south Korean Na­tional de­fense Com­mit­tee as an aide.

this ar­ti­cle, orig­i­nally writ­ten in Korean, was trans­lated by jiseon Chang, global asia fel­low at the East asia foun­da­tion.

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