U.S. resistance to extending the maximum permissible range of South Korean missiles amounts to shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted in view of the arms race already underway in the region, pundits say.
Among reasons for its resistance, the U.S. has sometimes cited fears of provoking China and Japan. Carl Levin, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, recently expressed support for extending the range but on condition that it should not provoke Beijing or Pyongyang.
But China, Japan and North Korea are already engaged in a frantic arms buildup, drastically bolstering their missile capability including intercontinental ballistic missiles, or developing solid rocket boosters that could be diverted for ICBMs.
In the 1960s, China launched a 15-man special committee to oversee development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles and formulated a plan to develop four kinds of ballistic missiles within eight years. As a result, it already in the 1970s had four missiles which put U.S. bases in Japan and even the U.S. mainland within their range.
Even Japan, which was not allowed ballistic missiles under postwar terms after it had developed solid rocket bombs during World War II, began developing solid rockets that could be turned into ballistic missiles in the 1950s and later developed powerful rockets and succeeded in launching a satellite in 1970.
In other words, South Korea's missile capability has long been outstripped by its neighbors'.
China's latest DF-31A missile with a range of 12,000 km, already deployed warfare-ready, is an ICBM that can hit the U.S. mainland. The missile could be used as a means of pressuring the U.S. to restrict any intervention in a war on the Korean Peninsula. Among China's ballistic missiles, the DF-15 with a range of 300 to 600 km poses a direct threat to South Korea since that puts all of South Korea within range except for the Gyeongsang provinces.
Japan has a three-stage solid rocket M-V that could be turned into an ICBM in a short period of time. Currently, Japan is a powerhouse in space booster rockets, whose technology is identical to the ICBM technology. The space exploration craft Hayabusa was launched in May 2003 and returned to Earth in June 2010 after collecting samples from an asteroid. This is proof that Japan has all the technology it needs for precision-guided ballistic missiles.
A military expert said, "China and Japan have long passed the stage where they would be made uncomfortable if South Korea extends its missile range." He added it is "preposterous" to hamstring Seoul's missile development based on this rationale.