We have repeatedly talked about how the US and its allies continue to frighten the world with the North Korean threat, presenting its missiles or nuclear program much like the Death Star from the famous Star Wars films. Today, we’ll talk more about what actions of the United States and the Republic of Korea (RK), this threat is used to justify and whether their “purely defensive program” is really just defensive. In doing so, we will not touch upon what has already been disclosed in previous articles on the THAAD theme, or how often and to what extent the military exercises of the Republic of Korea, or jointly between the Republic of Korea and the United States, are conducted.
For example, on April 14-15, 2015 in Washington, DC during the US-South Korean dialogue on defense, the decision was taken to create a Deterrence Strategic Committee. It will be a joint committee on defense strategy to respond to the growing missile and nuclear threat from Pyongyang. The new joint body came about as a result of a merger of the Extended Deterrence Policy Committee and the Anti-missile Capabilities Committee. Its task is to prepare operational plans for countering missile and nuclear threats from Pyongyang, so as to increase the effectiveness of the US nuclear umbrella and opportunities for strikes by conventional means.
The need to improve the interception of North Korean missiles is due to the fact that Pyongyang is believed to have reduced the size of its nuclear warheads and has began to equip missiles with them. Experts believe that the North has up to one thousand ballistic missiles, which poses a threat to world security. It is beside the point, that this number includes both intermediate-and short-range missiles, using maximum estimates, which are then alleged to be real numbers. It does not matter that the North’s statement on its progress in the miniaturization of nuclear warheads, making it possible to use them with the help of intercontinental ballistic missiles, surprised experts versed in highly technical details, and even the deputy chief of the press service of the US Department of State, Marie Harf, commenting on this, said: “With regard to this particular allegation of miniaturization, we believe that they (North Korea) have no such ability. And our assessment in this regard has not changed.” After all, according again to Harf, “North Korea is working on a number of long-range missiles, including intercontinental ballistic missiles.” And since they are working on this, it “could pose a threat to our allies and partners. Therefore, we, of course, are concerned about this.”
The reorganization and a significant expansion of staffing, which means more money for the new structure (the Deterrence Strategic Committee) – all this suggests to the author – a committee to combat the possible appearance of a Giant Pokémon in the Sea of Japan. The main thing is to forget, for now, that the North Korean missile program has conducted 4 launches in more than 15 years, and only a fraction of them were successful.
A further development in the means to combat North Korean missiles looks like this: Korea and the United States have decided to improve the strategy of intercepting North Korean missiles. The new version, called «4D» was offered by General Curtis Skaparotti, commander of US forces on the Korean peninsula.. 4D means a 4-step system intercepting North Korean missiles. The name of each step starts with the letter D – Detect, Defense, Disrupt and Destroy.
But that’s not all. According to the head of the Northern Command of the US Armed Forces, in charge of the country’s defense, Admiral William Gortney, “they (the North Koreans) have the ability to install nuclear warheads on KN-08 missiles, which can be launched at our territory.” Gortney stressed that the new ballistic missile is of particular concern to the United States because it is based on an automobile platform, and it is much harder to detect by means of aerospace observation. According to US data, in previous years, the missile was displayed at a military parade in Pyongyang, but has not yet passed flight tests. “We have not seen that they have tested KN-08, but we expect that they will.” And so, to protect themselves against North Korea’s nuclear missile threat, a missile defense system has been deployed on the west coast of the US, including interceptor missiles in Alaska and California.
Korea is not far behind: according to the “Medium-Term Plan for the Development of National Defense for the period 2016-2020″, the government of Korea intends to allocate approximately 232.5 trillion won, or about $ 211 billion for the implementation of programs aimed at countering the nuclear threat of Pyongyang over the next five years.
As follows from the published document, which is the main plan outlining the strategic development of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Korea, Seoul will give priority to the introduction of the newest and most modern weapons systems and technology, including missiles, precision bombs, new types of submarines, “invisible” fighter planes, drones and much more.
Approximately $140 billion will be allocated to improve command and control of the military, and about $ 70 billion will be directed at strengthening the defense capability of the armed forces. Part of the funds (six trillion won) will go to equipping the missile defense system, a pre-emptive strike called «Kill Chain», intended for a retaliatory strike against North Korean missile bases, command posts and mobile launchers, if it were to receive information about the North’s preparation to launch a strike against the South.
2.7 trillion won will be spent on the actual missile defense shield – the KAMD system. Among the systems planned to be purchased are American PAC-3 systems, M-SAM medium-range missiles and radar systems. Funds will also be allocated for technical re-equipment of the air and naval forces, and there are plans to buy drones and thermal imaging observation devices for the army.
Annual costs amount to an average of $ 40 – 42 billion, and perhaps this is why even commentary on South Korean radio ended with the following passage that “the government should remember that in exchange for considerable budgetary expenditures that are covered in part by residents’ taxes, the country wants to see peace on the Korean peninsula.” Indeed, although North Korea’s exact costs figure is unknown, according to experts, it varies from $ 2 to $8 billion a year. This means that even at the maximum figure, the South Korean military budget is five times the military spending of the North.
And what does the Republic of Korea have now? For a long time, it has had cruise missiles, including missiles for a new generation of submarines, which can stay under water for up to 50 days. By 2020, Korea will have six such submarines, and on each – 20 missiles with a range of 500 km. That is enough to cover the entire territory of the North.
Also, the army of the Republic of Korea is getting weapons to destroy underground bunkers and equipment capable of neutralizing minefields in the demilitarized zone (DMZ). This choice clearly demonstrates the offensive doctrine.
Just a year ago, the United States allowed the Republic of Korea to have ballistic missiles with a range of up to 800 km. But depending on the chassis and payload such a missile could hit both a distance of 800 km, and 2000 km. In fact, this is US permission for medium-range missiles capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. The potential strike reach of these South Korean ICBMs covers most of the territory of the Russian Far East.
Add to this – the ambition of both the conservative politicians and the younger generation of officers. Already, we are talking about the creation of a missile defense system and the concept of a pre-emptive strike with an emphasis on unmanned aerial vehicles and long-range cruise missiles. During March 2015 maneuvers, the Army of South Korea already worked out a pre-emptive artillery strike against North Korea.
So, while talking about the North Korean missile threat and not noticing how and for what purpose its southern neighbor is preparing, it is worth recalling the Russian proverb about the mote in another’s eye and the beam in one’s own.
Konstantin Asmolov, PhD (History), Senior Researcher at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”