South Korea says it's speeding up arms buildup to counter the North

South Korean soldiers sitting on a K-9 155mm self-propelled howitzer on Sept 25, 2017.
South Korean soldiers sitting on a K-9 155mm self-propelled howitzer on Sept 25, 2017.PHOTO: AFP
A South Korean soldier sitting on a Chunma self-propelled short range air defense missile system on Sept 25, 2017.
A South Korean soldier sitting on a Chunma self-propelled short range air defense missile system on Sept 25, 2017.PHOTO: AFP
A Taurus long-range air-to-surface missile at the Second Fleet Command of Navy in Pyeongtaek on Sept 25, 2017.
A Taurus long-range air-to-surface missile at the Second Fleet Command of Navy in Pyeongtaek on Sept 25, 2017.PHOTO: AFP
South Korean soldiers sitting on a K30 Biho twin 30 mm self-propelled anti-aircraft weapon on Sept 25, 2017.
South Korean soldiers sitting on a K30 Biho twin 30 mm self-propelled anti-aircraft weapon on Sept 25, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (NYTIMES) - The President of South Korea has vowed to accelerate efforts to strengthen its pre-emptive strike, missile defence and retaliatory capabilities against North Korea, and he renewed his call for the armed forces to become more independent from the United States.

In a speech to mark South Korea's Armed Forces Day on Thursday (Sept 28), President Moon Jae In said he would push for the South to move more quickly to retake wartime operational control of its military from its US ally.

Since the Korean War in the early 1950s, the terms of the countries' alliance have called for an American general to command the South's 650,000-member military should war break out.

Mr Moon and other liberals have campaigned for South Korea to play a greater role in the alliance, and they have long called for the country to resume responsibility for wartime command as soon as it can feasibly do so. But the idea has gotten more public support as remarks by US President Donald Trump have led many South Koreans to doubt his commitment to defend their country.

Mr Moon said on Thursday that a more self-reliant military could make itself stronger and more feared by North Korea. But he also said the South should strengthen its alliance with Washington.

An aide to Mr Moon said this week that the allies were working on ways to move strategic American military assets into the region more frequently, to help deter North Korea.

"The top priority is to secure abilities to counter the North Korean nuclear and missile threats," Mr Moon said.

Since Mr Moon took office in May, North Korea has conducted at least nine missile tests. On Sept 3, the North conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test. And the North's leader Kim Jong Un has been trading increasingly bellicose threats with Mr Trump.

Mr Moon has been more aggressive than his conservative predecessors about building up the South Korean military. After he met with Mr Trump in New York during the United Nations General Assembly last week, Washington agreed to sell more sophisticated weapons to South Korea.

In his speech on Thursday, Mr Moon said his government was accelerating work on three military programmes: a pre-emptive strike system known as Kill Chain that would target North Korean missile sites; an air and missile defence system; and a programme devised to launch devastating strikes against North Korea's military and political leadership should it start a war.