How to Handle South Korea's Missile Ambitions

NPEC's Executive Director and Wohlstetter Public Affairs Fellow publish a new piece in Foreign Affairs, "How to Handle South Korea's Missile Ambitions."

Nov 06, 2017
AUTHOR: Henry Sokolski & Zachary Keck

How to Handle South Korea's Missile Ambitions

The United States Should Not Give Seoul a Blank Check 

 By Henry Sokolski and Zachary Keck


When U.S. President Donald Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in meet this week, they are certain to discuss Seoul’s plans to build larger, nuclear-capable ballistic missiles. The White House has already signaled its willingness to back this effort, and talks about how to do so are underway. These talks were planned despite recent reports of warming ties between Beijing and Seoul. But if the United States is serious about reducing the prospects for war and nuclear missile proliferation, as well as strengthening its alliance with South Korea, the Trump administration cannot hand South Korea a blank check. At the very least, it should put limits on the range of Seoul’s missiles and ensure that the United States retains a say in when they are used.

This would be in line with over 40 years of the alliance’s history. U.S. efforts to limit South Korea’s missile ambitions date back to when Seoul was first caught trying to acquire nuclear weapons, in the 1970s. In exchange for access to basic American missile technology, South Korea agreed not to build any ballistic missiles that could travel more than 110 miles. To help ensure that Seoul did not violate this agreement, the United States conducted inspections of South Korean missile facilities.

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