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article imageUS and South Korea agree new strategic pact to counter Pyongyang

By Robert Myles     Oct 3, 2013 in World
Seoul - Defense Ministers from the US and South Korea yesterday signed a new agreement aimed at deterring North Korean deployment nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. The pact follows months of threatening rhetoric from Pyongyang.
US Secretary of State for Defense, Chuck Hagel, and his South Korean counterpart Lim Kwan-jin also discussed command and control of combined US and South Korean forces on the Korean peninsula.
South Korea is due to take over the wartime command in December 2015 but had requested a postponement, meaning that in the event of war breaking out with North Korea, joint forces would remain under US command.
Scant details were released about the new US-South Korea strategic pact except that it was said to provide “tailored deterrence” against the specific threat of a nuclear attack from North Korea.
The Defense ministers of the two countries spoke of establishing a “strategic framework” within their military alliance to counter “key North Korean nuclear threat scenarios” in both the current cease-fire arrangement between the two Koreas, which has lasted since fighting ended in the Korean War in 1953, and also in the event of hostilities breaking out anew. Although relative peace has reigned on the Korean peninsula since 1953, with only the occasional live-fire dispute, North and South Korea have never signed a formal peace treaty.
Speaking to reporters at a joint news conference with the South Korean Defense Minister, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said, “Of particular concern are North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, its proliferation activities, and its chemical weapons. Given these concerns, as Minister Kim noted, today we signed a bilateral strategy for tailored deterrence against the threat of North Korean nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction."
Secretary Hagel renewed the US commitment to using all its military capabilities, both conventional and nuclear, providing South Korea with an “extended deterrence that is credible, capable and enduring”.
The joint announcement was short on specifics as to what “tailored deterrence” might mean but Hagel said the North’s recent re-engagement with its program to develop nuclear weapons had prompted the new agreement. Of North Korea, Hagel said, “It has increased its capabilities, its missile capabilities, its three nuclear tests. So that is constantly forcing a review of our strategies."
Pre-emptive capabilities
But South Korean President Park Geun-hye was more forthcoming, reports the Korea Herald. Speaking at the ceremony marking South Korean Armed Forces day, Park said, “We have to build strong deterrence against North Korea until the North abandons its nuclear program and makes the right choice for the people of North Korea and peace on the Korean Peninsula."
Referring to the deployment of advanced missile systems, the Korea Air and Missile Defense (KAMD), she said, "While maintaining strong (South) Korea-U.S. joint defense system, the government will secure anti-weapons of mass destruction capabilities, such as kill chain and the Korea Air and Missile Defense (KAMD) system, at an early date to make North Korea realize on its own that its nuclear weapons and missiles ... are useless."
South Korea has been developing the kill chain system in anticipation of a hand-over of command and control of joint US-South Korean forces to Seoul in 2015. The kill chain system detects signs of impending missile or nuclear attacks and launches pre-emptive strikes. The KAMD would give South Korean military the ability to track and shoot down any North Korean low-flying, short and medium-range missiles.
Chemical weapons another concern
With chemical weapons much to the fore following the Aug. 21 attacks at Ghouta in Syria, the North’s stockpile of chemical weapons, which the South China Morning Post puts at 5,000 tonnes, about half the size of Syria’s arsenal, was also on the minds of the US and South Korean Defense Ministers. Hagel said, “There should be no doubt that North Korean use of chemical weapons would be completely unacceptable.”
Tensions have risen between the two Koreas during 2013 as the North has adopted a more belligerent stance in the face of international sanctions aimed at bringing pressure to bear on Pyongyang to end its nuclear program.
In February, North Korea detonated its third and most powerful nuclear weapon to date. Threats followed from Pyongyang to launch a pre-emptive strike against South Korea and the United States. In response, the Pentagon issued flight orders for nuclear-capable B2 stealth bombers to participate in joint military exercises with the South Korean military.
After the military exercises were done, but not before the North had unilaterally shut down the Kaesong Industrial Park, tensions between the two Koreas eased somewhat. Kaesong, which has since re-opened, is one of the few symbols of North-South co-operation involving a joint venture by South Korean companies, positioned inside North Korea and providing employment for around 50,000 North Koreans.
Then in early September, there were reports that North Korea had re-started its previously moth-balled Yongbyon Nuclear Plant, essential for the production of material to manufacture nuclear weapons. Yongbyon is believed to have previously produced plutonium in sufficient quantities enabling North Korea to manufacture an estimated 10 nuclear weapons.
That, coupled with satellite image analysis suggesting Pyongyang had expanded production of nuclear weapons-grade fissile material, prompted Secretary Hagel to comment, “North Korea has increased its threat clearly against South Korea, and against the United States. It has increased its capability."
Earlier, Secretary Hagel had attended South Korea’s largest military parade in a decade when a new cruise missile capable of hitting targets anywhere in North Korea was showcased.
The parade did not play well in Pyongyang. North Korean sources condemned it as "an unprecedented display of lunatic hostility," as well as strongly criticising the US-South Korea military partnership. AFP reports the North’s ruling party newspaper as saying, the US-South Korea alliance has "brought nothing but continued division, the deterioration of North-South relations and the increasing danger of a nuclear war."
Presently, there are an estimated 30,000 US military personnel stationed in South Korea working alongside South Korea’s 640,000 strong armed forces. Facing them, above the 38th parallel which marks the border between the two Koreas, North Korean armed forces are estimated to number about 1,100,000 active personnel and 8,200,000 reservists. The total population of North Korea is estimated to be just short of 25 million.
More about Chuck hagel, Department of Defense, pyongyang, North Korean nuclear program, Nuclear weapons
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