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South Korea moves to boost weaponry amid threats from North

  • FILE, In this photo on Monday, Sept. 4, 2017, file photo provided by South Korea Defense Ministry, South Korea's Hyunmoo II ballistic missile is fired during an exercise at an undisclosed location in South Korea. (South Korea Defense Ministry via AP, File)

  • In this Oct. 17, 2015 file photo, the South Korean Navy's 1,800 ton submarine Ahn Jung Geun surfaces during a media day for a naval fleet review off South Korea's southeastern coast near Busan, South Korea. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon, File) Ahn Young-joon

  • In this undated file image distributed on Sunday, Sept. 3, 2017, by the North Korean government, shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at an undisclosed location. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, File)

  • A man watches a television screen showing U.S. President Donald Trump, right, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017. The signs read "Need sanctions on North Korea."(AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon) Ahn Young-joon

  • This Aug. 29, 2017, file photo distributed on Aug. 30, 2017, by the North Korean government shows what was said to be the test launch of a Hwasong-12 intermediate range missile in Pyongyang, North Korea. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, File)

  • FILE - In this Monday, Sept. 4, 2017 file photo provided by South Korea Defense Ministry, South Korea's Hyunmoo II ballistic missile is fired during an exercise at an undisclosed location in South Korea. South Korean warships have conducted live-fire exercises at sea. The drills Tuesday, Sept. 5, mark the second-straight day of military swagger from a nation still rattled by the North's biggest-ever nuclear test. (South Korea Defense Ministry via AP, File)

  • FILE, In this Monday, Sept. 4, 2017 file photo provided by South Korea Defense Ministry, South Korea's Hyunmoo II ballistic missile is fired during an exercise at an undisclosed location in South Korea. South Korean warships have conducted live-fire exercises at sea. The drills Tuesday, Sept. 5, mark the second-straight day of military swagger from a nation still rattled by the North's biggest-ever nuclear test. (South Korea Defense Ministry via AP, File)



Associated Press
Tuesday, September 05, 2017

South Korean President Moon Jae-in took office four months ago with plans to reach out to North Korea in a way his conservative predecessors did not in the previous decade. Two ICBM launches and one nuclear test later, his government is ramping up its defenses, with some officials even considering asking the United States to bring back tactical nuclear weapons a generation after their removal from the Korean Peninsula.

Seoul’s new interest in stronger weapons received a boost Tuesday when the Trump administration agreed to remove restrictions on South Korean missiles.

But South Korean hunger for military strength goes beyond just missiles. Government officials also endorse the nation getting nuclear-powered submarines. And Seoul’s defense minister says the idea of bringing back U.S. tactical nukes to South Korea should be “deeply considered” by the allies.

This shift right by the liberal Moon underscores deep unease that the North’s expanding nuclear weapons arsenal will undermine the country’s decades-long alliance with the United States. Pyongyang may soon perfect an intercontinental ballistic missile that can target the U.S. mainland.

Here are some of the military capabilities South Korea is pursuing or may soon:

South Korea says stronger missiles are crucial to the so-called “kill chain” pre-emptive strike capability it wants to use to target North Korea. A pre-emptive strike against Pyongyang’s leadership would be difficult to undertake, but it’s widely seen as the most realistic of the limited military options Seoul has to deny a nuclear attack from its rival.

In August, South Korea conducted the last scheduled flight test of a new missile with a range of 500 miles. It will soon join the “Hyunmoo” family of ballistic missiles that currently have a maximum range of 310 miles.

While Seoul’s military says its missiles are currently capable of wiping out North Korean structures on land, it says heavier warheads are needed to target North Korea’s underground facilities and bunkers located with in the country’s mountainous region.

Following North Korea’s second test of an ICBM in July, Moon ordered his military to schedule talks with the United States to increase warhead weight limits on South Korea’s maximum-range missiles. Moon’s office didn’t announce any changes to the range limit on Tuesday.

South Korean missile developments have been constrained by a bilateral guideline between the allies since the late 1970s, when Washington sought to check Seoul’s missile development under military dictator Park Chung-hee, a staunch anti-communist who ruled South Korea in the 1960s and ’70s. The restrictions have been eased over the years.