South Korean has the technology and materials to build a nuclear weapon within a year if it so chooses but has promised on several occasions not to build one. Many South Koreans feel that it is time for their country to have their own nuclear weapons, especially with North Korea possessing a growing arsenal of such weapons.

South Korea at one time had a nuclear weapons program. It, Germany, Japan, Italy, Switzerland, Canada, South Korea and Taiwan are all believed to have conducted some nuclear weapons research during the Cold War period. South Korea and Taiwan began serious efforts to build nuclear bombs in the 1970s but gave up programs under heavy pressure from the U.S.

At one time the United States had nuclear weapons in South Korean. In 1991, the United States announced the withdrawal of U.S. tactical weapons deployed abroad, including about 100 based in South Korea.

According to Nuclear Threat Initiative: South Korea has maintained a bilateral security alliance with the United States since the Korean War (1950-1953). Seoul abandoned its nuclear weapons program in the 1970s, but has the latent technical capacity to produce nuclear weapons. South Korea is a signatory to several nonproliferation treaties and has adopted a policy aimed at maintaining a "nuclear-free Korean peninsula." [Source: Nuclear Threat Initiative, April 2016]

History of South Korea’s Nuclear Weapons Program

According to Nuclear Threat Initiative: South Korea first became interested in nuclear technology in the 1950s, but did not begin construction of its first power reactor until 1970. South Korea currently has 24 civilian nuclear power reactors in use and four under construction. Changes in the international security environment influenced South Korea's decision to begin a nuclear weapons program in the early 1970s. Under significant pressure from the United States, however, Seoul abandoned this program and signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) in April 1975 before it had produced any fissile material. Seoul is a state party to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), and a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the Zangger Committee. [Source: Nuclear Threat Initiative, April 2016]

In November 1991, President Roh Tae-woo declared that South Korea would not "manufacture, possess, store, deploy, or use nuclear weapons." Two months later, North and South Korea signed the Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. In this agreement, Seoul and Pyongyang agreed not "to test, manufacture, produce, receive, possess, store, deploy or use nuclear weapons," and not to "possess nuclear reprocessing and uranium enrichment facilities." However, both sides failed to implement the agreement's provisions relating to a bilateral inspection regime. Although North Korea has clearly violated the Joint Declaration, particularly in light of its three nuclear weapons tests (in 2006, 2009, 2013, and 2016), South Korea never officially renounced its obligations under the declaration, and has called on the North to abide by the agreement. Seoul has been a participant in the Six-Party Talks since their inception in 2003, which are aimed at ending the nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula.

Until recently, South Korea was bound by a 1974 bilateral agreement with the United States which prevented it from pursuing a form of reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel known as pyroprocessing. However, in April 2015, South Korea and the United States reached a deal to revise the agreement, lifted the ban on the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel.

The issue of possible redeployment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea has been debated since 2010. Although both Washington and Seoul deny the possibility — asserting that no such plans are under consideration or necessary for South Korea’s defense — hardline politicians in South Korea such as Representative Chung Mong-joon of the ruling Saenuri party (formerly Grand National Party) welcomed the prospect. In February 2013, immediately following the 2013 North Korean nuclear test, the Asan Institute for Policy Studies (founded by Chung) conducted a survey of 1,000 South Koreans, which showed about 66 percent supported the idea that South Korea should develop its own nuclear weapons to counteract North Korea. This number dropped to 52.5 percent and 54 percent according to polls taken in the aftermath of the January 2016 DPRK nuclear test. However, a small group of conservative politicians in President Park’s party continue to advocate development of a South Korean nuclear weapons program.

In March 2012, South Korea hosted the second Nuclear Security Summit. The Seoul Communique, which emphasizes nuclear security and encourages all State parties to minimize their highly enriched uranium (HEU), was adopted unanimously. As of the 2014 summit, South Korea reported that it was cooperating with Germany, the U.S., France, and Belgium to develop a technology which would convert its HEU-fueled research reactors to low enriched uranium (LEU).

More South Koreans Support Developing Nuclear Weapons

According to to a survey by the Joongang Daily in October 2005, two thirds of South Koreans want their country to be armed with nuclear weapons. That was before North Korea tested its first nuclear bomb. Polls taken after that show similar sentiments. In 2013, Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “An increasing number of South Koreans are saying that they want nuclear weapons too.Even in Japan, a country still traumatized by the legacy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there is a debate about the once-taboo topic of nuclear weapons. The mere fact that the bomb is being discussed as a policy option shows how North Korea's nuclear program could trigger a new arms race in East Asia, unraveling decades of nonproliferation efforts. The government in Pyongyang conducted its third nuclear test in February and is believed to be preparing a fourth. [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, May 18, 2013]

In South Korea, the pro-nuclear faction is becoming surprisingly mainstream. Its most prominent champion is Chung Mong-joon, a ruling party legislator and a scion of the Hyundai business dynasty. "Suppose you have a dangerous neighbor with a gun," Chung said in a recent interview. "You have to take measures to protect yourself. And being a gun control advocate isn't going to help you." Chung shocked attendees at the Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference last month in Washington by calling for South Korea to build its own bomb. He argues that it is time to try something new after two decades of failed diplomacy and engagement with North Korea. "We have to admit that everything we've tried has failed," Chung said. To some extent, it is a matter of national pride with a touch of machismo. South Korea's economy is 20 times the size of the North's, but the North has gate-crashed the elite club of nuclear-weapon states.

“Separate opinion polls taken this year by the Asan Institute for Policy Studies and Gallup Korea showed nearly two-thirds of South Koreans in support of nuclear weapons, preferably under their own control. "It is mostly an emotional, knee-jerk response to the frustration of the North Korean nuclear threat," said Daniel Pinkston, a Seoul-based analyst for the International Crisis Group. "People tend to say, yes, they want nuclear weapons, but not if they think through the costs and consequences." Under the international Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that went into force in 1970, only the United States, China, Russia, Britain and France are recognized as nuclear weapons states, with the understanding that they will share the peaceful benefits of nuclear energy. If South Korea were to build its own nuclear weapons, it would have to withdraw from the treaty, as did North Korea.

“Another increasingly popular view holds that the United States should reposition tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea that were withdrawn in 1991. The withdrawal was a key demand of the pro-democracy camp that dislodged South Korea's military dictatorship. "It would provide a trump card that would enable a breakthrough in the North Korean nuclear problem. Most of all, it would become a game-changer in the geopolitical and strategic dynamics surrounding the nuclear crisis," says a much-discussed essay written last year by Cheon Seong-whun of the Korea Institute for National Unification, one of South Korea's most respected nuclear analysts.”

The South Korean government in the early 2010s bristled “at the limitations that result from the nonproliferation pact. Its civilian nuclear reactors use fuel purchased from the United States under a 1974 nuclear cooperation. South Koreans want to renegotiate that agreement, which” expired in 2014, “to lift a ban on reprocessing the spent nuclear rods, putting them in a better position to eventually develop their own nuclear weapons. On South Korea's nuclear ambitions, Peter Hayes, a leading nonproliferation advocate and director of the Berkeley-based Nautilus Institute, says, "This is a dumb, stupid idea, but it makes good press."

Secret South Korean Nuclear Program

Details of clandestine nuclear program in South Korea indicate that it more successful in producing enriched uranium — a key ingredient for a nuclear bomb — and used deception to conceal the illegal activity from U.N. inspectors for years. Dafna Linzer wrote in the Washington Post: Diplomats with knowledge the covert programs “disclosed that South Korean scientists enriched uranium to levels four times higher than did their counterparts in Iran. Seoul conducted those experiments, in violation of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, two years before Iran did and kept them secret for nearly two years after Iran's came to light, said the diplomats, who would discuss the investigation by the International Atomic Energy Agency only on the condition of anonymity. [Source: Dafna Linzer, Washington Post, September 12, 2004]

The South Koreans appear to have experimented with smaller quantities of uranium than Iran did, and there is no indication that Seoul invested the kind of money and resources that Tehran has put into its program, the diplomats said. The IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency], which has suspected South Korea of violating the nonproliferation treaty for six years, confronted the Seoul government in December 2003. Several months later, diplomats said, South Korea began to acknowledge the work. Publicly, officials in Seoul said the experiments were one-time efforts by scientists working on their own.

But diplomats challenged those assertions and revealed over the weekend that the Seoul government officially and repeatedly blocked IAEA inspections months after the experiments in 2000 and told the IAEA false cover stories. "In 2001, the IAEA asked to conduct a regular inspection and was denied. That happened at least twice before the South Koreans, under some protest, allowed the inspectors in two years later," a diplomat said.

The IAEA investigation revealed South Korea's work on uranium enrichment, plutonium reprocessing and the production of nuclear equipment including uranium metal for laser technology. Iran was far less successful than South Korea at laser enrichment, according to diplomats and IAEA reports.In 2002, Iranian scientists enriched uranium to about 15 percent while the South Koreans, working two years earlier, enriched uranium to 77 percent.

South Korean Nuclear Program Produce Near-Bomb-Grade Uranium

Reuters reported: South Korea enriched a tiny amount of uranium in 2000 to a level close to what would be usable in an atomic weapon, the IAEA confirmed. The president of the Korean Atomic Energy Research Institute in Taejon, South Korea - a senior government scientist - had authorised the experiments with the uranium and knew about the work with plutonium, a senior diplomat close to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) also said. "Although the quantities of nuclear material involved have not been significant, the nature of the activities - uranium enrichment and plutonium separation - and the failures by [ South Korea] to report these activities in a timely matter . . . is a matter of serious concern," said the report. [Source: Reuters, November 12, 2004]

The South Korean scientists had imported some nuclear material and equipment from abroad, the report said, without naming the countries involved. Seoul did not acknowledge its plutonium separation experiment, conducted in 1982 until March 2003, despite repeated questioning about plutonium particles found at sites. The IAEA had found no signs that the South Korean experiments had gone beyond small-scale laboratory activities, the report said.

However, the IAEA confirmed that the scientists had enriched a small amount of uranium to 77 per cent uranium-235, the atom needed in large quantities in weapons. Bombs with uranium fuel usually have cores enriched to at least 80 to 90 per cent. Nevertheless, the average enrichment for the 10 experiments was only about 10 per cent uranium-235. "[ South Korea] stated that only about 200 mg of enriched uranium were produced, following which the experiments were terminated," the report said. The IAEA said only 0.7 grammes of plutonium were produced. A country would need 15-25 kilograms of weapons-grade uranium or around 7-10 kilograms of plutonium for the core of a weapon.

Biological and Chemical Weapons and South Korean

According to Nuclear Threat Initiative: “South Korea ratified the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) in June 1987 and joined the Australia Group in October 1995. While South Korea possesses a well-developed pharmaceutical and biotech infrastructure, there is no evidence that Seoul has an offensive biological weapons (BW) program. In its 2006 Defense White Paper, South Korea stated a need for defensive BW research and development, including the development of vaccines against anthrax and smallpox, however this research has not been cited since the 2010 Ministry of National Defense White Paper. [Source: Nuclear Threat Initiative, April 2016]

“Although Seoul has never admitted to this in a public forum, South Korea is understood — based on various media reports and comments by relevant experts — to have declared its possession of chemical weapons as part of its obligation under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC); this stockpile was fully destroyed as of 2008 under the supervision of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

South Korea ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in April 1997. Upon its ratification of the treaty, South Korea — according to many reliable sources — declared possession of several thousand metric tons of chemical warfare agents and one chemical weapons (CW) production facility to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Despite the fact that Seoul is widely understood to have declared its CW stockpile and facilities, neither the OPCW nor Seoul has publicly acknowledged this declaration. The South Korean government has maintained a high level of secrecy regarding its previous chemical weapons activities, making no public announcements and requiring the OPCW to refer to it in all documents as "another state party" or "an unnamed state party." However, media reports indicate that pursuant to its CWC obligations, the South Korean military built and operated a CW destruction facility to eliminate all CW munitions at a site in Yeongdong Chungcheong.

Under the CWC, South Korea was obligated to eliminate its CW stockpile by April 2007. South Korea requested an extension on that deadline from the OPCW, reportedly citing a number of technical difficulties in the operation of its destruction facility. South Korea completed the destruction of its entire chemical weapons stockpile in July 2008, becoming the second CWC member to do.

In the wake of the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in November 2010, the ROK government and the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) began to equip civilian facilities — such as subway stations — with gas and oxygen masks as well as oxygen tanks to be used in case of chemical attacks by the North. Additionally, the U.S. chemical warfare battalion, which left South Korea in 2004, was redeployed to the Korean peninsula in 2013.

Missiles of South Korea

South Korea has developed the Hyunmoo-2A and the Hyunmoo-2B ballistic missiles. The Hyunmoo-2B, a short-range, solid-fueled ballistic missile developed and deployed by South Korea, has has a standard range of 500 kilometers, but can travel up to 800 kilometers, with a reduced payload. It entered service in 2009 and remains operational. South Korea has also developed the Hyunmoo-3 cruise missile. with a range of over 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) and an accuracy of within 3 meters. Associated Press reported: The missile, if confirmed, would be the longest-range weapon in South Korea's arsenal. Missile-range limits have been agreed upon under an accord with the United States, which has cited concerns over a possible regional arms race. [Source: Associated Press, July 17, 2010]

According to the International Crisis Group's Daniel Pinkston the South Korea's Hyunmu-2 ballistic missile and Hyunmu-3 cruise missile" look like clones of the Russian Iskander (SS-26) and the Iskander-K cruise missile.

In October 2012 South Korea and the U.S. agreed to extend the range and payload capacity of South Korea’s missiles up to 800 kilometers with 500 kilogram payload. In the early 2000s South Korea had missiles with a range of 250 kilometers (155 miles) but was seeking longer range missiles from the United States. At that time arsenal includes French portable and South Korea-made cruise and Israeli-designed AGM-12 Popeye air-to-surface missiles. The later are electro-optically-guided missiles with a range of more than 100 kilometers.

According to Nuclear Threat Initiative: South Korea possesses short-range ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and a potentially dual-use aerospace program. A series of bilateral guidelines between South Korea and the United States govern Seoul’s ballistic missile program. These guidelines have evolved over time to allow for greater range and payload capacity. [Source: Nuclear Threat Initiative, April 2016]

South Korea joined the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) in 2001 as a condition of its revised guidelines with the U.S. The following year, it also became a member of the Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation (HCOC). In October 2012, South Korea and the U.S. again agreed to revise the guidelines on ballistic missiles, increasing the range from 300 to 800 kilometers with 500 kilograms payload.

South Korea has a series of short-range ballistic missiles based on the Nike Hercules design. Additionally, it deploys two series of cruise missiles, known as the Haesong and Hyonmu with ranges that could potentially reach 1,500 kilometers. While South Korea no longer possesses WMD, these missiles can carry WMD payloads.

South Korea’s "Kill Chain" Missile System

There are three critical stages to the South Korean defense strategy: the Kill Chain, the Korea Air and Missile Defense (KAMD) system, and the Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation (KMPR) plan. Stage one involves eliminating North Korean nuclear and missile facilities before a nuclear weapon can be fired once a preemptive strike is detected. Stage two focuses on intercepting incoming missiles. Stage three involves surgical strikes and special forces operations against the North Korean leadership and key assets.

James Hardy wrote in The National Interest: South Korea's Hyunmu-2 ballistic missile and Hyunmu-3 cruise missile are the pointy end of a spear that South Korean officials call "Kill Chain": an ambitious program that aims to knock out North Korea's ballistic missiles while they were still on the ground. “Kill Chain” was elucidated in the 2012 White Paper, which stated that "the ROK military will decisively strike not only the origin of enemy provocation, but also the command and support forces behind the provocation.” “To this end, the ROK military is not only reinforcing its precision surveillance, target acquisition, and precision strike capabilities in the Northwest Islands and the surrounding areas, but is also significantly strengthening its 'immediate retaliation forces', including air defense and anti-missile defense capabilities, as well as airborne and standby forces," the paper added. [Source: James Hardy, The National Interest, July 2, 2014]

“The key driver for this is the transfer of military operational control (OPCON) from U.S. to South Korean command... Along with “Kill Chain” Seoul is building the KAMD local missile-defense system based on second-hand Patriot missile batteries and locally built air-defense radars. However, there are serious reservations about “Kill Chain”, one of which is whether it will actually work. Perhaps the most compelling argument against it was made by Yonsei University Professor Choi Jong-kun, who, in 2013, outlined for the Hankyoreh newspaper the core problems with the program.

“The first is its ambitious scope: “Kill Chain” has to find evidence of an imminent threat anywhere in North Korea, assess it and pass a viable risk assessment to the top of South Korea's military command in minutes so it can order a pre-emptive strike. The system then has to scan North Korea for secondary sites that may also be preparing to launch ballistic missiles. Even if South Korea invests heavily in its ISR capabilities, the sheer size of North Korea–and the fact that much of its military infrastructure is underground–suggests Seoul will be hard-pressed to supply the blanket surveillance it would need to function.

“The second major issue critics have with "Kill Chain" is the preemptive doctrine on which it is based. Proponents argue that it sends exactly the right kind of message to Pyongyang: that North Korea’s mobile ballistic-missile program is not the deterrent it thought it would be, and in an arms race, its much richer southern neighbor has time and resources on its side. The counterargument, helpfully outlined by North Korean state newspaper Rodung Sinmun, is that it unnecessarily aggravates tensions on the peninsula. "If the puppets launch a preemptive strike, or even make a twitch, they will face our merciless revenge," the paper wrote in an October 2013 editorial.

For the United States, the South’s new missile capabilities and the accompanying doctrine appear to be less than welcome. For starters, “Kill Chain” complicates potential conflict scenarios and could see the United States pulled into a shooting war with the North by a trigger-happy South Korean military — something the United States has already had to deal with, according to former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. After the North’s November 2010 artillery attack on Yeonpyeong island, “South Korea’s original plans for retaliation were, we thought, disproportionately aggressive, involving both aircraft and artillery,” Gates wrote in his memoir. “We were worried the exchanges could escalate dangerously,” he added.

“Kill Chain” and KAMD also explain why South Korea feels that it can refuse to join a trilateral ballistic missile defense system with the United States and Japan, something that is a major policy objective for Washington and politically toxic for Seoul.

“If we consider various conditions such as the necessity, its adaptability to the peninsular environment and its cost, there is no appropriate logic for South Korea to join the U.S. missile defense,” Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin said in 2013, in comments that skirted the real issue – Tokyo’s involvement in any BMD program. Kim was in his current position when public opposition stopped Seoul from signing a military intelligence sharing agreement with Tokyo at the last minute in June 2012; since then, bilateral relations have plumbed new depths.

History of Missile Development in South Korea

According to Nuclear Threat Initiative: In 1954, the United States and South Korea signed the ROK/U.S. Mutual Security Agreement, codifying their intent to defend each other against outside aggression. However, Park Chung-hee came to power in a surprise military coup, wich strained relations with Washington. Park embraced a policy of “self-reliant” national defense policy through the 1960s and 70s. Unease over U.S. commitment to the Mutual Security Agreement under Nixon and later Carter played into his goal of building a missile program. [Source: Nuclear Threat Initiative, April 2016]

South Korea began developing missiles in the early 1970s. In December 1971, South Korean President Park Chung-hee issued a directive to reverse-engineer the U.S. Nike Hercules air defense missile, a system that can also be used as a surface-to-surface system. Following several failures, South Korea's first successful test of its own version, the Baekgom system, was conducted in September 1978. In 1979, South Korea entered into a bilateral agreement with the United States that limited South Korean ballistic missiles to a range of 180 kilometers with a 500 kilograms payload. The Baekgom program was slashed in December 1982, but was restored in late 1983. South Korea subsequently developed an improved version of the Baekgom, called the Hyonmu. Currently South Korea deploys a series of short-range ballistic missiles and two types of cruise missiles. South Korea joined the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) in March 2001; membership in the organization limits the missile-range and payload to 300 kilometers and 500 kg, respectively, and supersedes the missile-range agreement concluded earlier with Washington. In January 2002, South Korea announced procurement of the 300 kilometers-range Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) from the United States, purchasing 220 ATACMS by 2004.

Since 2011, South Korea sought to extend the range of its missiles by up to 800-1000 kilometers, arguing that North Korea is in possession of the 1,300 kilometers range Nodong; however, the U.S. blocked an extension citing concern about heightening tension on the Korean peninsula. On October 7, 2012 both countries agreed to extend South Korea’s missile range up to 800 kilometers with 500 kilograms payload. In addition, a ‘trade-off’ provision was included, which allows South Korea to increase the payloads proportionally to a decrease in the range of its short-range missiles. Both countries also agreed to increase the payload capacity of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from 500 kilograms to 2500 kg.

In the 1990s, Seoul began development of its own space program, including the development of a space-launch vehicle (SLV). After numerous delays, South Korea launched the two-stage KSLV-1 rocket on August 25, 2009. The launch was intended to place an earth and atmospheric monitoring satellite — the Science and Technology Satellite-2 (STSTAT-2) — into orbit. The satellite reached an altitude of about 390 kilometers, but could not maintain an orbit; it was destroyed during re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere. In a 2010 launch, the rocket exploded 137 seconds after takeoff. Seoul ultimately achieved a successful orbit in January 2013. The success of this launch raises concerns that South Korea has sufficient technology for a long-range ballistic missile system that could deliver WMD payloads.

In March 2014, South Korea successfully tested a new ballistic missile with a range of 500 kilometers, which is capable of striking the North. In April 2015, the Ministry of National Defense submitted its budget for the 2016-2020 period, requesting KRW 232.5 trillion to improve missile capabilities and ensure deterrence against the North. In June 2015, South Korea tested a longer-range ballistic missile capable of striking all parts of North Korea; Seoul reportedly plans to deploy the missile by the end of 2015.

In the wake of North Korea’s January 6, 2016 nuclear test and February 7, 2016 liquid-fueled Unha rocket –boosted satellite launch, South Korea has made efforts in concert with the U.S. to ratchet up its missile defense systems. Immediately following the ballistic missile launch, the U.S. Department of Defense announced it was in talks with Seoul to discuss the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Aerial Defense (THAAD) system in South Korea, which would be operated by U.S. forces. With a range of about 120 miles, the system would serve to augment the shorter range MIM–104 Patriot batteries already deployed in the country. The U.S. has also deployed additional Patriot missiles in South Korea in response to the DPRK test.

Ballistic Missiles of South Korea

South Korea has developed the Hyunmoo-2A and the Hyunmoo-2B ballistic missiles. The Hyunmoo-2A has a range of more than 290 kilometers (180 miles). The Hyunmoo-2B, a short-range, solid-fueled ballistic missile developed and deployed by South Korea, has a standard range of 500 kilometers, but can travel up to 800 kilometers, with a reduced payload. It entered service in 2009 and remains operational. [Source: Wikipedia]

According to Nuclear Threat Initiative: In 1971, President Park Chung-hee issued a confidential order to his cabinet to develop a missile program. The following year, the Ministry of National Defense (MND) gave the Agency for Defense Development (ADD) an official order to develop short-range tactical missiles and long-range surface to surface missiles under the project name “Aerospace Industry Project”. In 1972, Seoul and Washington agreed to an arrangement that allowed South Korea to reverse-engineer Nike Hercules surface-to-air missiles in exchange for limiting the range to 180 kilometers and the payload to 500 kg. South Korea ultimately built two systems based on this design, the NHK-1 and NHK-2. [Source: Nuclear Threat Initiative, April 2016]

South Korea’s Aerospace Industry Project accelerated in earnest in 1975 as it incorporated the “Yulgok Plan” aimed at reducing the military gap between North and South Korea. The ADD collaborated on missile design with American and French contractors. In 1978, after three missile tests, South Korea successfully demonstrated the NHK-1 (K-1, Baekgom) surface-to-surface missile with a range of 180 kilometers and 500 kilograms payload.

In 1979, the previous 1972 agreement was elevated to a government-level memorandum endorsed by the President and Minister of National Defense. The U.S. was wary of the ADD's attempts to secretly start a nuclear program under Park. The guidelines allowed for American technology procurement in exchange for strict adherence to the 1972 limits on range and payload. In a move to bolster legitimacy and assuage U.S. fears, the new military regime after Park's assassination slashed the missile development program by firing over thirty ADD executive officials.

After a 1983 assassination attempt by North Korea, President Chun Doo-hwan ordered the ADD to complete the Hyonmu by the 1988 Seoul Olympics. It did so on 21 September 1985 with the first of three successful tests. The missile was in full operation by 1987. The range and payload of the Hyonmu are 180 kilometers and 500 kilograms respectively. The Hyonmu is an upgraded version of the Baekgom in terms of versatility, given that the Hyonmu can be topped with either a single high-explosive or cluster munitions warhead. According to the 1990 U.S. inspection of the Hyonmu, it complied with range and payload restrictions; however it is possible the range could have been extended to 250 kilometers (beyond the agreed-upon 180 kilometers) by 1999. Two hundred Hyonmu-1 were deployed in two battalions, but currently the Hyonmu-1 is stored in a reserve force since its replacement by the Hyonmu-2.

In the early 1990s, North Korea began testing and eventually deployed the 1,000 kilometers-range Nodong missile. Seoul sought to renegotiate its guidelines, pointing to the threat of North Korea; however, the U.S. was reluctant to expand on the current guidelines, and continued to enforce export controls in accordance with the 1979 terms. At the same time President Roh Tae-woo began to warm relations with South Korea's former adversary, the Soviet Union, with USD US$3 billion in loans and trade credits. After signing a bilateral military cooperation agreement with Russia in 1992, South Korea began to focus on ballistic missile and space launch vehicle technology exchange using “Operation Siberian Brown Bear" through South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA). Clandestine acquisitions from Russia followed, according to a South Korean businessman who reportedly moved to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, Russia, where he won a contract to recover scrap metal from decommissioned START I Treaty ICBMs. He reportedly acquired enough parts for one Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), including two missile engines.

The U.S. initially opposed South Korea joining the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). However, after 20 rounds of talks starting in 1995, Washington and Seoul agreed to set new ballistic missile guidelines, wherein Seoul would join the MTCR in March 2001 and the parties would revise the missile range and payload guidelines up to 300 kilometers and 500 kilograms respectively. Throughout the process, Washington insisted that: “The U.S. would have the right to inspect missile production facilities; The ROK would have to provide information at each step prior to research, development, production, and deployment; The ROK could not conduct research on missile systems with a range greater than 300 kilometers; and [The] ROK would have to disclose information on civilian rocket research.”

South Korea developed the NHK-2 PIP B (Hyonmu-2B) with the goal of improving accuracy, and began deploying the Hyonmu-2B on its central and eastern borders since the end of 2009. On October 7, 2012, Seoul and Washington yet again agreed to revise missile guidelines allowing a missile range of up to 800 kilometers. The guidelines for payload remain at 500 kg, but under the “trade-off” article, the payload can be increased in inverse proportion to range. South Korea’s National Security Adviser, Chun Yung-woo, announced "if North Korea is to attack or provoke, we are able to incapacitate its nuclear and missile (capabilities) in the early stage. We have guaranteed various capabilities to protect the life and safety of our people."

The new missile guidelines are controversial. South Korea's missiles can now reach all parts of North Korea, including its long-range missile bases and the nuclear facilities at Yongbyon. However, medium-range ballistic missiles are neither likely to deter attacks such as those on the Cheonan or the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, nor are they effective against North Korea’s mobile missile forces. Furthermore, increased range could contribute to tensions in Northeast Asia, and negatively impact the nonproliferation community.

South Korean Cruise Missiles

South Korea has developed the Hyunmoo-3 cruise missile. with a range of over 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) and an accuracy of within 3 meters. Associated Press reported: The missile, if confirmed, would be the longest-range weapon in South Korea's arsenal. Missile-range limits have been agreed upon under an accord with the United States, which has cited concerns over a possible regional arms race. [Source: Associated Press, July 17, 2010]

According to Nuclear Threat Initiative: Seoul began focusing on cruise missile development in the 1990s because cruise missiles were not subject to the same range restrictions as ballistic missiles, and offered improved accuracy and flexibility on the battlefield. [Source: Nuclear Threat Initiative, April 2016]

The SSM-700K (Haeseong) is South Korea's first anti-ship cruise missile with a 200 kilometers range. The project began in 1996 and went into regular production by 2006. South Korea began development of the Haesong-2 in 2010. South Korea developed the Hyonmu series as a land-attack missile based on the Tomahawk and has deployed all three types since the early 2000s.

In April 2017, South Korea tested cruise missile, with a range of 800 kilometers (500 miles) capable of reaching all areas of North Korea. Elizabeth Shim UPI wrote: Sources in the defense ministry told Yonhap news agency on Thursday, local time, a "Hyunmoo-type ballistic missile" was successfully tested at the Anheung test site of the Agency for Defense Development. The cruise missile is capable of reaching the northernmost city of Sinuiju in North Korea, when fired from the South's southernmost Jeju Island, according to sources. [Source: Elizabeth Shim, UPI, April 5, 2017]

The projectile could play a key role in the South Korean plan known as Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation, or KMPR, which could target the North Korean leadership in the event of a nuclear attack. Seoul's Defense Minister Han Min-koo observed the launch and Yonhap's source said the missile met the important requirements of launch, flight and target strike. The military reduced the flight distance of the rocket for safety purposes and focused on checking performance measures and accuracy, according to the report.

More cruise missile tests are expected and when a final performance evaluation is completed the missile is to be deployed before the end of 2017. The missile launched in 2017 appears to be a new type of missile in the Hyunmoo category, according to the report. The missile could cover a full range of targets in North Korea if deployed from the southeastern city of Pohang. A South Korean military official said that "As long as North Korea does not give up its nuclear and missile development despite the constant warnings of the international community, [Seoul] will acquire the capability to suppress North Korea's nuclear and missile threats in order to complete the kilometersPR system."

South Korean Dual-Use Space Launch Vehicles

According to Nuclear Threat Initiative: The Baekgom and Hyonmu-1 programs gave impetus to South Korea's scientific rocket development program. The Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) launched its first research rocket, Korea Sounding Rocket-1, a single stage solid fuel rocket, in 1993. Five years later, KARI launched its second research rocket, KSR-2, which is a two stage solid propellant rocket. In 2002, KARI succeeded in testing its first liquid propellant single stage rocket, the KSR-3. Following these initial tests, South Korea implemented a program for its first space-launch vehicle space-launch vehicle (SLV), the Korea Space Launch Vehicle (KSLV), also known as Naro. In 2004, Seoul and Moscow signed an agreement for aerospace technology cooperation, which was followed up with a technology safeguards agreement in 2006. [Source: Nuclear Threat Initiative, April 2016]

After numerous delays, South Korea launched the two-stage KSLV-1 rocket on August 25, 2009. The launch was intended to place an earth and atmospheric monitoring satellite — the Science and Technology Satellite-2 (STSTAT-2) — into orbit. The satellite reached an altitude of about 390 kilometers, but could not maintain an orbit; it was destroyed during re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere. In a 2010 launch, the rocket exploded 137 seconds after takeoff. Seoul ultimately achieved a successful orbit in January 2013. The success of this launch raises concerns that South Korea has sufficient technology for a long-range ballistic missile system that could deliver WMD payloads.

South Korea is now developing an indigenous KSLV-2 rocket. The KSLV-2 consists of three stages for a 1.5 metric ton payload, and a potential altitude of 600-800 kilometers. KARI plans to test the first two stages in 2018, and if successful, the three stage space launch vehicle in 2021. After testing is complete, KARI plans to utilize the KSLV-2 to launch South Korea's first lunar orbiter in 2023 and a lunar lander in 2025.

New South Korean Missile Developments

According to Nuclear Threat Initiative: In 2012, North Korea announced that it would launch its Unha-3 rocket to put a satellite into orbit on April 12, 2012. Though the launch failed, it was widely seen as a chance to test long-range missile technology. On April 19, 2012, South Korea’s President Lee Myung-bak made a public visit to the ADD; the MND simultaneously released video footage of the Hyonmu-2 ballistic missile and the Hyonmu-3 cruise missile flying into a target resembling North Korea's Kumsusan Palace. As Kim Jong Un and much of the North Korean leadership had visited Kumsusan Palace to honor founding father Kim Il Sung that same day, North Korea found the test an act of agression. [Source: Nuclear Threat Initiative, April 2016]

In 2012, South Korea started developing a ship-to-land version of the Haeseong missile with an inertial navigation system and infrared imaging sensors instead of radar. In February 2013, the MND disclosed its domestically developed 200-1,000 kilometers range ship-to-land cruise missiles.

In March 2014, South Korea successfully tested a new ballistic missile with a range of 500 kilometers, capable of striking the North. Seoul aims to develop new ballistic missiles with a range of 800 kilometers.

South Korea's MND is seeking to increase missile defense capabilities through a system known as "Kill Chain" by building upon its original Korea Air and Missile Defense (KAMD). In April 2015, the Ministry of National Defense submitted its budget for the 2016-2020 fiscal year, requesting KRW 232.5 trillion to improve missile capabilities and ensure deterrence against the North. 6 trillion will be distributed in building the Kill Chain, the country's preemptive strike apparatus; 2.7 trillion won will be used in developing the KAMD.

In June 2015, South Korea tested a longer-range ballistic missile. The Defense Ministry declined to reveal the exact range and payloads, but claimed the new missile is capable of striking all parts of North Korea. Seoul plans to deploy the missile by the end of 2015.

THAAD and Patriot Missiles in South Korea

In 1994, the U.S. sent patriot missiles to South Korea to help the country protects its airfields and ports from North Korean missiles. In 2003, an upgraded version of these missiles, the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 system, was deployed along with ATMS Block 1A missiles, with a range of 200 miles and capable of hitting most targets in North Korea. There has been some discussion of deploying “bunker buster” bombs that can be used against North Korean armaments protected in deep bunkers and tunnels.

In the 2010s, the U.S. deployed more Patriot missile batteries in South Korea. Patriot is a surface-to-air missile (SAM) system intended to shoot down incoming missiles. The at the heart of the system the "Phased Array Tracking Radar to Intercept on Target" (PATRIOT) which tracks the incoming missiles and guides the aerial interceptor missiles. The U.S. military command in South Korea operates the air defense battery and has conducted ballistic missile training using the Patriot system at Osan Air Base near Seoul. A second battery was temporally installed in February 2016. [Source: Wikipedia, Fox News, February 13, 2016]

THAAD Air Defense in South Korea

In March 2017, the United States deployed the "first elements" of the controversial Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system to South Korea, despite angry opposition from China. According to Reuters: Once fully deployed in South Korea, a THAAD battery could theoretically use its radar to see and monitor activity beyond North Korea, deep into Chinese territory. Russia also worries the deployment could compromise its security, and said it would lead to a stalemate on the Korean peninsula.” The presence of THAAD on South Korean saol has been a contentious political issue in South Korea and created friction with North Korea and China. [Source: James Pearson, Reuters, March 13, 2017]

Song Jung-a, wrote in the Financial Times: “South Korea and the U.S. have agreed to deploy the US anti-ballistic missile system in South Korea as a shield against North Korea’s increasing missile and nuclear threats, sparking a strong rebuke from China. Seoul’s defence ministry said THAAD would be deployed US forces stationed in South Korea to counter the North Korean threat and would not be directed to any other country. The decision was made “as a defensive measure to ensure the security of the South and its people, and to protect alliance military forces from North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile threats,” the ministry said in a statement. “When the THAAD system is deployed to the Korean peninsula, it will be focused solely on North Korean nuclear and missile threats and would not be directed towards any third-party nations,” it added. [Source: Song Jung-a, Financial Times, July 8, 2016]

China, however, called on the two countries to reconsider the move, with the foreign ministry saying the system would destabilise the security balance in the region and achieve nothing to dismantle the North’s nuclear programmes. “China strongly urges the U.S. and South Korea to stop the deployment process of the THAAD anti-missile system, not take any steps to complicate the regional situation and do nothing to harm China’s strategic security interests,” it said in a statement.

Regional concern about the security threat from Pyongyang has increased amid North Korea’s frequent missile launches in defiance defying international sanctions. North Korea has recently boasted of more advanced missile technologies including new rocket engines and simulated atmospheric re-entry, as it aims to threaten the mainland US with nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles.

South Korean Bunker Busters and Sub-Killing Torpedoes

In 2016, there were reports that South Korea had deployed 40 bunker buster bombs to counter threats from North Korea. Ryan Pickrell wrote in the Daily Caller: Multiple Korean news agencies, some citing the South Korean Air Force, claim that 40 Taurus KEPD 350 “bunker buster” missiles were delivered earlier in December and sent to the K-2 Taegu Air Force Base. [Source: Ryan Pickrell, the Daily Caller, December 12, 2016]

“Experts say these missiles are accurate enough to be dropped through Kim Jong-un’s office window, NK News revealed. A total of 170 Taurus KEPD 350 missiles are expected to be deployed to the peninsula by next year. The missiles will reportedly be loaded onto F-15s. The missiles have a range of about 300 miles and are one of the best weapons the South has against North Korea’s underground facilities. South Korea’s MND released its bunker buster bomb deployment plan in March. The missiles are a part of a US$28 billion defense plan to counter North Korea’s nuclear program. The Taurus KEPD 350 can be used in surgical strikes against hardened, high-value targets.” North Korea has published numerous criticisms of South Korea’s purchase of bunker buster weaponry.

In 2011, Chosun Ilbo reported: The Navy will deploy Korean-made Hongsangeo (Red Shark) "submarine-killer" torpedoes on the Navy's top-end Aegis destroyer. "The Navy installed a torpedo launch system on the King Sejong the Great, a military source said.The Hongsangeo is an anti-submarine missile that is launched vertically to avoid detection by enemy submarines and to increase its range. It is dropped by parachute near the intended target. After release, the torpedo falls into the water and independently searches for the target. [Source: Chosun Ilbo, August 15, 2011]

“The Agency for Defense Development spent W100 billion (US$1=W1,081) over the nine years until 2009 on developing the Hongsangeo. It has a longer range and much higher accuracy than light torpedoes launched by conventional vessels or aircraft. "Deployment of the torpedo, which is launched vertically and attacks enemy submarine up to 30 kilometers away, will drastically improve anti-submarine operations capabilities in both the East and West Seas," another military officer said. The torpedoes, which measure 5.7 m by 0.38 m, weigh 820 kilograms and cost about W2 billion apiece, will also be deployed on the Aegis destroyer Yulgok Yi Yi sometime late in 2011.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons.

Text Sources: South Korean government websites, Korea Tourism Organization, Cultural Heritage Administration, Republic of Korea, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, World Bank, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Chunghee Sarah Soh in “Countries and Their Cultures”, “Columbia Encyclopedia”, Korea Times, Korea Herald, The Hankyoreh, JoongAng Daily, Radio Free Asia, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, BBC, AFP, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2021

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