Pacific Stars And Stripes
May 5, 1999
ROK Wonít Join Missile Program
By Jim Lea, Stripes Seoul Bureau Chief
SEOUL ó The South Korean Defense Ministry has reiterated that it has no plans to join a U.S.-Japan theater missile defense program because it lacks the money and technology to take part in the project.
Reacting to recent speculation in the local press that the United States might push Seoul to join the program, a ministry spokesman echoed comments made in March by Defense Minister Chun Yong-taek. Chun had said in a meeting with foreign journalists that South Korea would not take part because it would require billions of dollars and technology Seoul does not now have available.
South Korea still is reeling under a near collapse of the national economy in 1997 that necessitated a $58 billion bailout by the International Monetary Fund. A number of defense projects have been scaled back or shelved in order to help stabilize the economy.
Plans for the project to be jointly developed by Tokyo and Washington were sparked by North Koreaís test firing of a Taepodong missile last August. That unannounced test sent the missile roaring across the northern tip of Honshu, Japanís main island, prompting angry reaction from Tokyo, which said the launch recklessly endangered Japan and ships in its waters.
It also confirmed suspicions that Pyongyang is developing missiles with a range that could target any part of Japan. U.S. Defense officials said the tested missile was a three-stage rocket with a solid-fuel third stage. American intelligence agencies did not know until then that North Korea possessed solid-fuel technology. They expressed concern that Pyongyang soon could be turning out missiles of sufficient range to hit targets in Guam, Hawaii, Alaska and other parts of the United States.
A Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry spokesman said there has been no indication that the press speculation Washington might try to prod Seoul into joining the missile-defense project will happen. Both China and Russia have complained that development of a anti-ballistic missile system by the United States and Japan will trigger an arms race in Northeast Asia.