Sunday, June 13

A Quiet Arms Race Is Rapidly Heating Up Between the Two Koreas


SEOUL — Pride and jealousy have driven North and South Korea to engage in propaganda shouting matches and compete over who could build a taller flagpole on their border. Now that one-upmanship is intensifying a much more dangerous side of their rivalry: the arms race.

Earlier this month, South Korea’s dream of building its own supersonic fighter jet was realized when it unveiled the KF-21, developed at a cost of $7.8 billion. The country also recently revealed plans to acquire dozens of new American combat helicopters. When President Moon Jae-in visited the Defense Ministry’s Agency for Defense Development last year, he said South Korea had “developed a short-range ballistic missile with one of the largest warheads in the world.”

Unlike North Korea, the South lacks nuclear weapons. But in recent years the country has revved up its military spending, procuring American stealth jets and building increasingly powerful conventional missiles capable of targeting North Korean missile facilities and war bunkers.

The impoverished North has used those moves to justify expanding its own arsenal, and has threatened to tip its short-range missiles with nuclear warheads and make them harder to intercept. Experts warn that the ensuing arms race between the two countries is jeopardizing the delicate balance of peace on the Korean Peninsula.

The North’s ICBMs still use liquid fuel, which takes hours to load before launching, making them vulnerable to American pre-emptive strikes. But in his January speech, Mr. Kim vowed to build solid-fuel ICBMs, presenting an even bigger challenge for American missile defenses. Such prospects deepen the fear among some South Koreans that Washington would be less likely to intervene if it, too, faced a possible North Korean nuclear attack.



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