By Jung Sung-ki
South Korea declared Monday that it will fully participate in the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), a U.S.-led global campaign aimed at interdicting ships suspected of carrying materials that could be used for weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).
Whether to fully take part in the international exercise had been a source of debate as the government was worried that such an action would provoke a severe backlash from North Korea and undermine cross-border relations.
After North Korea conducted a second nuclear test in May last year, however, the administration announced it would become a full-fledged PSI member. More than 90 nations are participating in the initiative.
Seoul has yet to fully participate in the training, but has provided relevant resources to allied forces.
Minister of National Defense Kim Tae-young, however, said the South Korean Navy will actively participate in the exercise, as part of efforts to prevent the North’s intrusion into South Korean waters.
“In the spirit of the PSI, we are preparing maritime interdiction training exercises both within and outside the region to actively stem the proliferation of North Korean nuclear weapons and their weapons of mass destruction,” Kim said in a joint news conference with Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Yu Myung-hwan and Minister of Unification Hyun In-taek at the Government Complex in Seoul.
“The maritime interdiction training exercises within the region will be led by our navy and are currently planned for the latter half of the year,” he continued. “We will also participate in a maritime interdiction exercise outside the region hosted by Australia in September.”
The PSI was launched in 2003 to prevent the transfer of WMDs, their delivery systems and related materials by air, ground and sea to and from states and non-state actors of proliferation concern.
North Korea, known for exporting illicit weapons, is among the major targets of the initiative.
“Our government will not allow North Korean ships to navigate in our territorial waters. In accordance with this announcement, as of today, the Armed Forces will interdict the entry of North Korean ships into our waters and take appropriate measures, including forcible removal, in the case of non-compliance,” Kim said.
The defense minister unveiled plans to bolster the combined ROK-U.S. naval defense readiness in western waters off the disputed sea border.
He said a large-scale ROK-U.S. anti-submarine exercise is to be conducted in the West Sea soon.
“Elite forces from the Republic of Korea and the United States will participate in this training exercise, which will serve as an opportunity to focus on the enhancement of defensive tactics against underwater attacks by North Korea and our surface firing capabilities,” he stressed.
Defense sources said the forthcoming naval training would involve up-to-date warships of the U.S. 7th Navy Fleet, such as a nuclear-powered submarine, Aegis-equipped destroyers and an aircraft carrier.
The South Korean Navy’s Type-209/214 attack submarines, Sejong the Great-class KDX-III Aegis destroyers and KDX-II destroyers will join the exercise, they said.