WASHINGTON, D.C. — Hours after North Korea launched its second missile test in the past week, US Secretary of Defence Ash Carter met with the South Korean Minister of Defence Han Min Koo at the Pentagon on Thursday.
“As with previous tests we strongly condemn last night’s attempt, which even when failed, violated several UN security council resolutions and affirm that this latest provocation only strengthens our resolve to work together with our Republic of Korea allies to maintain stability on the peninsula,” Carter said in opening remarks.
The Hermit Kingdom’s latest test occurred on Wednesday at 5:00 p.m. CDT near the northwestern city of Kusŏng, according to a US Strategic Command statement. The presumed Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missile failed upon launch.
The Musudan missile is speculated to have a range of approximately 1,500 to 2,400 miles, capable of targeting military installations in Guam and Japan, based on estimates from the Missile Defence Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
So far this year, North Korea has conducted eight Musudan missiles tests. All launches except the sixth one on June 22 were considered to be failures.
Carter and Han described new opportunities for bilateral cooperation, specifically, bolstering maritime security in order to counter North Korea’s submarine-based ballistic missile launches.
“A submarine launch poses an especially grave threat since it could catch the United States and allies by surprise,” Rebeccah Heinrichs, a fellow at the Hudson Institute specializing in nuclear deterrence and missile defence, told Business Insider in a previous interview.
In August of this year, North Korea successfully launched a missile from a submarine with a range capable of striking parts of Japan and South Korea.
Pyongyang first attempted a submarine-based missile launch last year and again at the end of April 2016.
In regards to the rogue regime’s defiant nuclear tests, Han said the US commitment to ensure that an attack from the North would be met with failure had greatly strengthened the “Korean people’s trust towards the United States.”
“Make no mistake, any attack on America or our allies will not only be defeated but any use of nuclear weapons will be met with an overwhelming and effective response,” Carter said during the press conference, echoing his South Korean counterpart.
“The United States remains committed to defending our allies against any threat with the full spectrum of American military might. That’s why we are adapting our force structure on the peninsula, most recently by agreeing as allies to deploy THAAD to defend against North Korean missile threats,” Carter said.
In order to counter North Korean threats, the US agreed to equip South Korea with a Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) battery, America’s most advanced and highly mobile missile defence system.
And while negotiations to deploy THAAD to the region have been ongoing since South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s October 2015 visit to the White House, North Korea’s fourth nuclear bomb test on January 6 and long-range rocket launch on February 7 proved to be catalysts for the deployment.
China argues that since Washington agreed to equip Seoul with the unique missile-defence system, the North’s missile tests have expanded and are poised to increase.
“China complains bitterly about the prospects of a THAAD radar in the neighbourhood, but for such bitterness they have no one to blame but themselves for aiding and abetting Kim Jong Un’s missile development,” Thomas Karako, director of the Missile Defence Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Business Insider.
And while THAAD’s deployment has China peeved, Heinrichs adds that a layered ballistic missile defence system between the US, South Korea, and Japan will “provide a deterrent verse North Korea and will be help absorb an initial missile attack, should deterrence fail.”
“Patriot is already deployed to South Korea and it handles the smaller, short-range missiles. THAAD, once deployed, would complement Patriot by providing an upper tier defence,” Heinrichs said.
Commenting on the future deployment of THAAD, Carter said the missile defence system is “necessary to protect our people.”
“Everyone can see that North Korea is determined to try to expand it’s missile threat to the peninsula, to the region, and to the United States … This is a threat we need to stay a step ahead of and that’s why we are making the deployments we are doing as an alliance and that’s why the alliance has taking the decision to deploy THAAD,” Carter said.
As of now, a THAAD battery is slated to be operational in South Korea by the end of 2017; however, Daniel Russel, assistant secretary of state for East Asia, said the system would be deployed “as soon as possible,” Reuters reports.
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