US to step up sales of advanced military hardware in wake of North Korean nuclear test

Posted on : 2017-09-07 16:44 KST Modified on : 2017-09-07 16:44 KST
Experts question the wisdom of Seoul’s purchase of more weapons to counter NK threat
An SM-6 missile is launched from a US naval vessel
An SM-6 missile is launched from a US naval vessel

With tensions on the Korean Peninsula high following North Korea’s sixth nuclear test, US President Donald Trump has made several references to giving the South Korean government permission to buy US weapons. This is prompting suspicions that Seoul will buy up a large number of US-made weapon systems during the North Korean nuclear crisis. Considering that strengthening the military by itself cannot resolve the North Korean nuclear and missile crisis, experts advise caution about the uncritical acquisition of cutting-edge weapons.

“I am allowing Japan & South Korea to buy a substantially increased amount of highly sophisticated military equipment from the United States,” Trump wrote on his Twitter account early on the morning of Sept. 6. The White House made similar announcements on Sept. 1 and Sept. 4.

There’s no way of knowing what weapons systems Trump was referring to. “The worsening security environment on the Korean Peninsula provides a good pretext [for the US] to sell weapons. It’s very likely that they’ll start pushing to sell South Korea weapons systems that haven’t been exported so far, like THAAD, the Patriot PAC-3, and the SM-6 missile interceptor for Aegis ships,” wrote Kim Jong-dae, lawmaker for the Justice Party, on his Facebook page. Kim is regarded as one of the leading experts on military security in the National Assembly.

“Buying weapons isn’t enough to deal with national security. If anything, it could make matters even worse. The government needs to stop thinking it can manage the current situation through military means alone,” said Kim during a telephone interview with the Hankyoreh on Sept. 6. Even if the South Korean military upgrades its military, Kim explained, “North Korea can simply switch to new tactics using its current weapons at hardly any expense. We need to break out of this vicious cycle where we’re the only ones spending so much on our military budget.”

Kim provided the following example of the “illusion” of US strategic assets. The THAAD battery, which was deployed at a cost of US$1 billion, is designed to intercept an incoming North Korean missile on a nearly vertical trajectory. But the North could target the THAAD battery with short-range missiles flying at a low altitude. To defend the THAAD battery, therefore, South Korea would have to spend another US$1 billion to acquire and deploy an additional Patriot battery.

But with deployment of the Patriot battery, the North could plan to hit the THAAD battery with its latest 300 mm multiple rocket launchers stationed near DMZ, since those rockets can fly at an even lower altitude, or it could even send unmanned attack drones. Keeping THAAD safe would then require the further deployment of local antiaircraft radar and 20 mm Vulcan cannons. In the end, South Korea would be locked into a vicious cycle of constantly pouring a huge sum of money into national defense.

“Deterrence is a special kind of power that is recognized and feared by your opponent and prevents them from taking action. Given the much stronger deterrence provided by the US, it’s doubtful whether North Korea is afraid of South Korea’s top-of-the-line weapons systems,” Kim said.

“Deterrence can be created by military force, but it can also be created through peaceful means. Military force needs to be used as a way to promote dialogue, but I’m concerned that making military preparations while ruling out dialogue will just make the tensions worse,” he added.

By Jung In-hwan, staff reporter

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