On Monday, 30 May 2021, the United States of America (USA) and South Korea (RoK) ended a decades long mutual pact over the ballistic missile range of the South Korean Military. This decision was made after South Korea managed to persuade the US administration to terminate this pact and was presented to the world as a carefully crafted sentence in the middle of the 2,632 word joint statement issued by U.S. President Joe Biden and South Korean President Moon Jae-in at last week’s summit. It was a small line, one that went unnoticed amid all the talk about the U.S.-South Korea alliance and the need for dialogue on denuclearization of North Korea. But it was also the most explosive line in the document. The words were both clear and opaque: “Following consultations with the United States, the ROK [Republic of Korea] announces the termination of its Revised Missile Guidelines, and the Presidents acknowledged the decision.” Moon exulted as he stood beside Biden after their summit, saying it was “with pleasure that I deliver the news.” Biden, smiling triumphantly as he hailed the success of the summit, was conspicuously silent about South Korea quietly gaining free rein to make any number of missiles, capable of carrying any size payload, flying any distance to potential targets ranging from North Korea to Pyongyang’s traditional allies, China and Russia.
In order to be able to understand this issue in detail it is pertinent to get into the formation of this pact and study it in detail.
History and Formation of the Pact
The pact or missile guidelines were introduced in October 1979, when the Cold War was still going on. The United States hoped to forestall a missile race that could vastly escalate North-South tensions. But South Korean presidents, whether dictators like Park Chung-hee or liberals like Moon, have always chafed under so-called guidelines imposed by the United States under which they had to yield to U.S. demands in return for security guarantees and technological exchanges. Reclaiming what South Korea terms “missile sovereignty” is thus a symbol of national pride. The missile guideline was issued in 1979 when South Korea was given US technologies and components for developing its own missiles. As a result of two guideline revisions in 2001 and 2002, the permitted range of South Korean missiles was increased from initial 180 kilometers to 300 kilometers and then 800 kilometers. The pact resulted in South Korean missile capabilities to be used mostly to be utilized only for defensive purposes. Sources have also claimed that the US support to South Korean missile buildup at the time was to make sure a balance in tents of armaments in the region given the dynamic geo-political situation of the region during a time when the Cold War was still going on.
Opinions and Reactions of Parties Involved :
North Korea’s state media on Monday criticized the recent termination of a pact between the United States and South Korea that capped the development of South Korea’s ballistic missiles, calling it a sign of Washington’s “shameful double-dealing.” North Korea's official KCNAnews agency carried an article by Kim Myong Chol, who it described as an "international affairs critic," to accuse the United States of applying a double standard as it sought to ban Pyongyang from developing ballistic missiles. The United States is "engrossed in confrontation despite its lip- service to dialogue," Kim said. "The termination step is a stark reminder of the U.S. hostile policy toward the DPRK and its shameful double-dealing." North Korea’s target is the United States, not South Korea’s military, and it will counter the States on “the principle of strength for strength,” Kim said. Kim also criticized Moon for welcoming the termination of the guidelines, calling it “disgusting, indecent.” “Now that the U.S. and the South Korean authorities made clear their ambition of aggression, they are left with no reasons whatsoever to fault the DPRK bolstering its capabilities for self-defense,” Kim added. North Korean state media accused the US of attempting to spark an arms race on the Korean peninsula while tightening its ‘military grip’ on the South. He accused the US of seeking a “tighter military grip” on South Korea and attempting to spark an arms race on the Korean peninsula. Further, he criticized Moon for welcoming the termination of the guidelines, calling it “disgusting, indecent”. “Now that the US and the South Korean authorities made clear their ambition of aggression, they are left with no reasons whatsoever to fault the DPRK bolstering its capabilities for self-defense,” Kim added, referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). The KCNA article marks the North’s first response to thedecades-old restrictions on South Korea’s missile development being lifted. The fact that the comments did not come from a senior foreign ministry official or spokesman – the usual conduits for attacks against the US – is widely seen as a move aimed at leaving room for diplomacy down the road.
South Korea (ROK) :
“South Korean President Moon Jae-in announced the abolishment of the joint missile guidelines that had limited the country’s development of ballistic missiles to a range of 800 km (500 miles) after his first summit with U.S. President Joe Biden earlier this month. Moon exulted as he stood beside Biden after their summit, saying it was “with pleasure that I deliver the news.” Biden, smiling triumphantly as he hailed the success of the summit, was conspicuously silent about South Korea quietly gaining free rein to make any number of missiles, capable of carrying any size payload, flying any distance to potential targets ranging from North Korea to Pyongyang’straditional allies, China and Russia. The difference in emphasis was evident in the official reports of what Moon said at the briefing. The South Korean media had him describing the agreement as “symbolic and substantive,” but the White House transcript has Moon using a similar phrase to describe an entirely different agreement, reached in March, for the South to pay around $1 billion this year for keeping America’s 28,500 troops on U.S. bases there. Moon, according to the White House, praised the base agreement, down from $5 billion demanded by Donald Trump as president, for showing “the robustnessof our alliance as a symbolic and practical measure.” South Korean presidents, whether dictators like Park Chung-hee or liberals like Moon, have always chafed under so-called guidelines imposed by the United States under which they had to yield to U.S. demands in return for security guarantees and technological exchanges. Reclaiming what South Korea terms “missile sovereignty” is thus a symbol of national pride.
United States of America (USA) :
In April, the Biden administration completed a months-long review of U.S. policy toward Korea that sought to avoid the “grand bargain” approach of former president Donald Trump and the “strategic patience” of former president Barack Obama, said White House press secretary Jen Psaki. During a speech to a joint session of Congress in April, Biden characterized his own approach as a combination of “diplomacy, as well as stern deterrence. Biden also announced the appointment of veteran diplomat Sung Kim as special envoy to North Korea at the summit. Talks over Pyongyang’s nuclear program have been stalled since 2019. During the summit, Biden and Moon also discussed diplomatic issues involving China, but a joint statement released later avoided directly addressing Beijing’s growing assertiveness in the region.
People's Republic of China (PRC) :
The Chinese ambassador to South Korea, Xing Haiming, had said the missile guidelines were a bilateral matter between Washington and Seoul. “However, we will not stand still if it does damage to China’s national interest,” Xing told reporters last week. One very important point that is to be kept in mind is that it also potentially puts major Chinese cities within reach of South Korean missiles.
The termination of these missile guidelines is definitely an important issue that could have long lasting effects. It is also possible that ‘missile sovereignty' turns into ‘missile supremacy’ which could lead to further problems in a already volatile region. It is essential that both countries involved do not take to arms and solve their conflicts via diplomacy. It is also possible that other countries like China try to enter the situation and gain a role in it which could further complicate the issue. Will this act turn out to be a positive or a negative action, only time shall tell, will it prevent a war a result in the outbreak of one? We do not know, what we do know is that it’s best that we avoid any form of armed conflict and solve the issue diplomatically and peacefully.
~ Shaurya Mahajan