South Korea eyes bigger missiles to respond to North's threats

It gets approval from US to scrap weight limit on warheads after Pyongyang's largest nuclear test

South Korea ramps up its military operations after North Korea's sixth and most powerful nuclear test to date.
US President Donald Trump shaking hands with South Korean President Moon Jae In during a joint press conference in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, DC on June 30, 2017.
US President Donald Trump shaking hands with South Korean President Moon Jae In during a joint press conference in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, DC on June 30, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL • South Korea said an agreement with the United States to scrap a weight limit on its warheads would help it respond to North Korea's nuclear and missile threat, after Pyongyang conducted its largest nuclear test on Sunday.

South Korean President Moon Jae In and US President Donald Trump agreed to the move on Monday, South Korea's presidential office said, which will enable Seoul to strike the North with greater force. The White House said Mr Trump had given "in-principle approval".

"We believe the unlimited warhead payload will be useful in responding to North Korea's nuclear and missile threats," a Defence Ministry spokesman said yesterday. Under the current guidelines, South Korea can develop missiles of up to 500kg.

Mr Trump tweeted yesterday that he was "allowing Japan and South Korea to buy a substantially increased amount of highly sophisticated military equipment" from the US.

Mr Moon's office acknowledged a possible need to buy advanced US weapons systems in future to enhance deterrence against North Korea, but dismissed any immediate plan to spend billions of dollars as suggested by Washington, the Yonhap news agency reported.

Mr Moon's spokesman Park Soo Hyun said Mr Moon and Mr Trump agreed on the need to upgrade South Korea's defence capabilities.


It is ridiculous to put us on the same (sanctions) list as North Korea and then ask for our help in imposing sanctions on North Korea. This is being done by people who mix up Australia with Austria.


Meanwhile, South Korea's Asia Business Daily, citing an unidentified source, reported yesterday that North Korea had been spotted moving a rocket that looked like an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) towards its west coast. The moving of the rocket started on Monday, and it was moved only at night to avoid surveillance, the report said.

South Korea's Defence Ministry, which warned that North Korea was ready to launch an ICBM any time, could not confirm the report.

The South's Defence Minister Song Young Moo said on Monday it was worth reviewing the redeployment of American tactical nuclear weapons to the Korean peninsula to guard against the North, a step analysts warn would sharply increase the risk of an accidental conflict.

Mr Song said he had asked his American counterpart, Mr James Mattis, if strategic assets such as US aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines and B-52 bombers could be sent to South Korea more regularly. He did not disclose Mr Mattis' response.

A poll by YTN, a cable news channel, found that 68 per cent of respondents supported bringing tactical nuclear weapons back to South Korea.

The US had about 100 nuclear- armed weapons stationed in South Korea until 1991, when the US withdrew all tactical nuclear weapons deployed abroad.

The South Korean presidential office said it was not considering redeploying tactical nuclear weapons.

Yesterday, South Korea's navy held more drills in the East Sea, also known as the Sea of Japan. These involved the 2,500-tonne Gangwon frigate, a 1,000-tonne patrol ship and 400-tonne guided-missile vessels, among others, the navy said.

Meanwhile, the White House said "all options" are on the table, while US envoy to the United Nations Nikki Haley said the US would circulate a new resolution on North Korea and wanted a vote on it on Monday. Mr Mattis warned of a "massive" military response if the US or its allies were threatened.

But the immediate focus was on tougher sanctions. Diplomats said the UN Security Council could ban North Korean textile exports and its national airline, stop oil supplies, and prevent North Koreans from working abroad, among other things.

But Russia and China yesterday reiterated that a peaceful resolution is needed, with Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissing sanctions as "useless and ineffective".



South Korea responds with military drills.

SEE OPINION: Miscalculation could lead to a Korean war

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 06, 2017, with the headline 'S. Korea eyes bigger missiles to respond to North's threats'. Print Edition | Subscribe