ANALYSIS-S.Korea doubles down on risky ‘Kill Chain’ plans to counter N.Korea nuclear threat


By Josh Smith

SEOUL, July 26 (Reuters)South Korea is pouring assets into its technique of deterring any North Korean nuclear assault by making ready for preemptive strikes if crucial, a technique some consultants say could exacerbate their arms race and dangers miscalculation throughout a battle.

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who took workplace in May, has publicly given new emphasis to the so-called “Kill Chain” system to counter a North Korean nuclear assault.

First developed a decade in the past as North Korea ramped up its nuclear improvement, Kill Chain requires preemptive strikes towards the North’s missiles and probably its senior management if an imminent assault is detected.

The system is a logical however extremely risky and probably unreliable method to strive to counter North Korea’s nuclear threat, some consultants and former officers say.

The implicit threat towards North Korean chief Kim Jong Un is especially destabilising, mentioned Ankit Panda of the U.S.-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“I can see why leadership decapitation is tempting for South Korea, but threatening to kill the leadership of a nuclear-armed state is uniquely dangerous,” he mentioned.

Jeffrey Lewis, a missile researcher on the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS), referred to as the plans “the most plausible route to a nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula.”

“This is the *military* plan that is most likely to succeed…” he mentioned in a put up on Twitter. “But it is also the option most likely to create uncontrollable escalation dynamics and start a nuclear war.”

South Korea’s Ministry of Defense didn’t reply to a request for remark on such issues.

Yoon has beforehand mentioned boosting the system is important to ensuring North Korea by no means launches an assault within the first place.


This month, Yoon’s administration introduced the creation of a Strategic Command by 2024 to oversee preemptive and retaliatory strike methods. It features a rising arsenal of ballistic missiles, F-35A stealth fighters and new submarines, which have been displayed in more and more frequent drills.

South Korea can also be looking for to develop its personal satellites and different expertise to detect North Korean targets independently from the United States.

But some consultants say it’s uncertain a preemptive strike may accomplish its objective.

North Korea in current months has examined hypersonic missiles and missiles it says may carry tactical nuclear weapons, narrowing the time Seoul would have to reply to a pending assault.

“Kim has ample reason to believe that he can employ his nuclear weapons in a limited way and still survive,” Panda mentioned.

A spotlight on decapitation strikes, in the meantime, could encourage Kim to undertake extra harmful command and management practices in a disaster, similar to delegating nuclear authority so North Korea’s weapons can be utilized even when he’s killed, Panda added.


At the foundation of South Korea’s technique is a hedge towards U.S. abandonment, European defence researchers Ian Bowers and Henrik Stalhane Hiim mentioned in an instructional report final 12 months. “Its deterrent effect, no matter how uncertain, acts as a short-term stopgap if the United States abandons South Korea.”

Those issues have been heightened when then-President Donald Trump demanded Seoul pay billions of {dollars} extra to help U.S. troops on the peninsula, and raised the prospect he may withdraw them.

The U.S. deploys round 28,500 troops on the peninsula and retains wartime operational management over the allied forces.

Park Cheol-kyun, who labored on worldwide coverage at South Korea’s Defense Ministry till May, mentioned creating such capabilities did not essentially replicate worries about U.S. commitments.

The new Strategic Command would contain a brand new working system and new command construction, bringing “synergy” to the weapons used within the Kill Chain and associated techniques to improve deterrent and response capabilities, he advised Reuters.

An inconvenient truth for South Koreans wanting to show unbiased bravado to the North is that any preemptive strike would have to be performed in session with the United States, a former senior U.S. official with information of the state of affairs mentioned.

“To conduct a preemptive strike would not be an act of self defence, and by definition this would fall under the category of an Alliance decision,” the previous official mentioned. Firing unprovoked on North Korea could be a “major violation” of the Armistice Agreement in power because the 1950-1953 Korean War ended with out an official peace treaty, the official added.

Lt. Colonel Martin Meiners, a Pentagon spokesman, declined to remark on the long run deployment of navy belongings or navy planning with South Korea, however mentioned selections on alliance power posture will probably be made bilaterally.

“While the United States remains committed to a diplomatic approach, we will continue to take all necessary measures to ensure the security of the United States and our allies,” he mentioned.

Self defence is a elementary precept that features preemptive strikes if crucial, Mark Esper, a former U.S. secretary of defence underneath Trump, advised Reuters.

“If we had clear intelligence that North Korea was going to launch a nuclear attack on Seoul, that would be a scenario that certainly a preemptive strike might be warranted,” he mentioned.

(Reporting by Josh Smith; Additional reporting by Soo-hyang Choi, and Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)


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