Mon, Sep 16, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Buying a big stick

South Korea’s military spending has North Korea worried

By Josh Smith  /  Reuters, SEOUL

A visitor on Sept. 10 points a camera toward North Korea from the unification observatory in Paju, South Korea. North Korea launched two projectiles toward the sea on Tuesday, South Korea’s military said, hours after the North offered to resume nuclear diplomacy with the US, but warned its dealings with Washington may end without new U.S. proposals.

Photo: AP

South Korea and North Korea have continued to pour resources into modernising their militaries despite a frenzy of diplomacy since last year, data shows, creating a point of tension that has sharpened as talks have stalled.

Military buildups on both sides of the heavily fortified border between the two nations have come to the forefront with recent short-range missile launches by North Korea, perfecting an arsenal it says is necessary to defend against new South Korean weapons.

North Korean state media yesterday reported that leader Kim Jong-un had personally supervised on Tuesday the test firing of a large multiple-rocket launch system, a type of weapon analysts say threatens forces in South Korea.

Pyongyang has sharply criticised US-South Korean military drills and South Korea’s defense procurements — including an aircraft carrier, stealth fighters and spy satellites — as undisguised preparations for a preemptive strike.

In a commentary on Friday, North Korean state news agency KCNA said South Korea’s pursuit of new weapons systems is an “unpardonable act of perfidy” that threatens to undermine peace on the peninsula.

South Korea’s Ministry of National Defence (MND) did not respond to requests for comment.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s administration has committed billions of additional dollars to the country’s defence budget, which is already among the largest in the world.

South Korea’s military expenditures last year reached US$43.1 billion, an increase of 7 percent compared with 2017, according to the MND. It was the biggest single-year jump since a 8.7 percent increase in 2009.

In July the MND announced South Korea would build a light aircraft carrier, the country’s first. And last month it unveiled a plan to spend about US$239 billion more between next year and 2024.

About US$85 billion of the future budget is earmarked for arms improvements, representing an average 10.3 percent year-on-year increase.

“Given the recent uncertain security environment, the government is investing heavily in strengthening its defence capabilities,” the MND said when the plan was announced.

By 2023, the “force enhancement” budget will account for more than 36 percent of total defence spending, up from about 31 percent this year, according to South Korea’s 2018 Defense White Paper.

The planned aircraft carrier is expected to accommodate vertical-landing F-35B stealth fighter jets.

Among the other weapons on Seoul’s shopping list are new missile defence systems; three more destroyers equipped with the cutting-edge Aegis radar system; spy satellites and high-altitude reconnaissance drones; anti-submarine helicopters; maritime patrol aircraft; submarines capable of firing cruise and ballistic missiles; and a warship armed with guided missiles.

“Neither Korea wants a full-blown confrontation, but both want to make sure they have the weapons platforms and defence resources available in the event a flare-up happens,” said Daniel DePetris, a fellow at Defense Priorities, a Washington-based think tank.

EXPENSIVE ARMS RACE

Of most immediate concern to North Korea, this year South Korea took delivery of the first of 40 land-based F-35A stealth aircraft from the US.

North Korea criticized that as well as other weapons announcements as a reckless arms build-up that was forcing it to develop new short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) to “completely destroy” the new threats.

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