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South Korea Is Speeding Up Arms Buildup to Counter North, Its Leader Says

“The top priority is to secure abilities to counter the North Korean nuclear and missile threats,” Mr. Moon said.


Mr. Moon, a liberal, has been more aggressive than his conservative predecessors about building up the South Korean military. Credit Jeon Heon-Kyun/European Pressphoto Agency

Since Mr. Moon assumed office in May, North Korea has conducted at least nine missile tests, two of which involved intercontinental ballistic missiles. On Sept. 3, the North conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test. And the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, has been exchanging increasingly bellicose threats with Mr. Trump.

Mr. Moon has been more aggressive than his conservative predecessors about building up the South Korean military. After he met with Mr. Trump in New York last week, Washington agreed to sell more sophisticated weapons to South Korea.

During that meeting, the United States and South Korea also agreed to expand the deployment of American strategic military assets to South Korea on a rotating basis, possibly by the end of the year, Mr. Moon’s national security adviser, Chung Eui-yong, told South Korean political leaders on Wednesday.

Mr. Chung did not say what those assets would be, but in recent years, the United States has often sent long-range strategic bombers and nuclear-powered submarines to South Korea for military drills.

In his speech Thursday, Mr. Moon said his government was accelerating work on three military programs: a pre-emptive strike system known as “Kill Chain” that would target North Korean missile sites; an air and missile defense system; and a program designed to launch devastating strikes against North Korea’s military and political leadership should it start a war.


South Korean fighter jets during the ceremony on Thursday. Mr. Moon called for the military to become more independent of America’s. Credit Jung Yeon-Je/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

He said the South Korean military should become strong enough to retake its wartime control from the Americans, and to “play a leading role in establishing a stronger and more stable combined defense system” together with the United States.

South Korea handed over operational control of its military to an American general in 1950, when the United States rushed troops to the Korean Peninsula to fight the Korean War. The war ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty, and tens of thousands of American soldiers have been based in the South ever since. The South regained peacetime control of its military in 1994, but the United States would still command combined American-South Korean forces in the event of war.

Washington agreed in 2007 to return wartime command to Seoul by 2012. But the target date was pushed back to 2015, and then again to the mid-2020s, as North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs advanced and doubt surfaced over whether the South’s military could build up its capabilities quickly enough to take the lead in its defense.

Also on Thursday, Malaysia barred its citizens from traveling to North Korea because of the escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

Malaysia’s relations with North Korea have deteriorated since the murder of Kim Jong-nam, the estranged half brother of Kim Jong-un, at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in February. Malaysia said North Korean agents had hired two female assassins to kill Mr. Kim with a nerve agent. In the wake of the killing, both countries briefly barred each other’s nationals from leaving.

Malaysia is scheduled to face North Korea in an Asian Cup soccer match in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, on Oct. 5, a match that has already been delayed twice because of security concerns. It was not clear if the Malaysian team would be exempted from the new travel ban.

Source: NYT > World

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