End To U.S. Restrictions On South Korea’s Missile Range Angers North Korea

The United States faces backlash from North Korea after lifting its guidelines that previously limited South Korea’s ballistic missile range. The decision comes as part of last month’s summit between U.S. President Joe Biden and South Korean President Moon Jae-in to reaffirm diplomatic ties between their two countries. The guidelines, which were first implemented by the U.S. back in 1979, restricted South Korea’s missile range to around 500 miles. 42 years later, the Biden administration has brought an end to those restrictions, allowing South Korean missiles to reach far beyond the Korean Peninsula. 

However, the North Korean response to the move has been that of anger and firm disapproval, as shown through the country’s state-sponsored media outlet, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). Kim Myong Chol, who describes himself as an “international affairs critic,” writes on behalf of the KCNA, criticizing how “the U.S., doggedly branding the measures taken by the DPRK for self-defense as a violation of UN ‘resolutions,’ grants its allies unlimited right to missile development.” Seeing the United States as the main threat, he states that North Korea will plan to threaten the U.S. on “the principle of strength for strength.” The KCNA article continued, stating, “Now that the U.S. and the South Korean authorities made clear their ambition of aggression, they are left with no reasons whatsoever to fault the DPRK bolstering its capabilities for self-defense.” 

On the other hand, South Korean officials applauded the agreement between President Biden and President Moon, as it would hopefully improve South Korea’s national security amidst the ongoing tension with North Korea. Additionally, Boo Seung-chan, the spokesman for South Korea’s Defense Ministry, stated that “the termination of the missile guidelines reflects how the Biden administration lays importance on the ROK-U.S. alliance, and it shows Washington’s trust in South Korea in terms of national capacity, status and as a model nation for international nonproliferation.” 

The U.S.’s decision to lift restrictions on South Korea’s missile range may have been an attempt to counter North Korea’s threats and to maintain peace in the region, or it may have been a step towards an even stronger diplomatic relationship between the U.S. and South Korea. However, the move comes with consequences that may trigger more distress in an already tense region of the world. Easing missile restrictions on South Korea has triggered an angry response from North Korea and a threat to counter the U.S.’s decision. While it is unknown how exactly North Korea will counter, the risk of escalating tensions between the U.S. and North Korea is not conducive to peace. Additionally, increased access to missiles and other weapons, no matter the country and its intentions, creates a world that is more prone to war and armed conflict. 

It is critical to make careful decisions when it comes to the affairs of the Korean Peninsula. Since the start of the Korean War in the 1950s, U.S. diplomatic relations with North Korea have been aggressive. The threat of war ensues between the two countries as North Korea develops its nuclear weapons and missile programs. Most recently, the Associated Press reported back in January that North Korea was threatening to expand its nuclear program to combat U.S. hostility. Supreme Leader of North Korea Kim Jong Un, who President Biden called a “thug,” stated that he sees the U.S. as his country’s “main enemy” and that he will not use nuclear weapons unless he feels threatened by the U.S. 

Considering the status quo and the recent agreement between the U.S. and South Korea, there does not seem to be any prospects of peace soon. Instead, increasing South Korea’s missile range may lead to escalating tensions in the region and possible retaliation from North Korea. The livelihoods of innocent civilians are at risk when the threat of a missile attack exists. For that reason, the U.S. and North Korea must reconsider resuming diplomatic talks towards a peaceful and fair solution before any permanent damage is done. Until then, eyes are glued to the U.S. and North Korea, with hopes that the current situation does not intensify further. 

Muna Khalidi