By Kang Seung-woo
The Ministry of National Defense said Tuesday that the U.S.-led missile defense (MD) system is not South Korea's option in deterring North Korea's nuclear and missile threats.
"We are still clinging to our position that Korea will not join the U.S.-led MD system," said defense ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok.
Instead of the U.S. MD, Korea is building an independent, low-tier missile shield called the Korea Air and Missile Defense (KAMD) system with a plan to upgrade PAC-2 missiles to PAC-3.
His remarks come as the United States appears to be pushing Korea to join its missile defense system, which mainly aims to contain a rising China in the region.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) last week and it requires the secretary of defense to explore ways to strengthen trilateral cooperation with Korea and Japan on ballistic missile defense, including system integration and more information sharing. The NDAA is a U.S. federal law related to the budget and expenditures of the Department of Defense.
"The secretary of defense shall conduct an assessment to identify opportunities for increasing missile defense cooperation among the United States, Japan and the Republic of Korea," it said.
It also requires the military chief to submit a report to Congress no later than 180 days after the act takes effect.
However, the defense ministry spokesman believes that the passage of the NDAA was prompted by North Korea's ceaseless pursuit of long-range missiles and nuclear weapons, rather than designed to call on the South to follow in Japan's footsteps. Japan joined the U.S. MD system in 2005.
Although Korea confirmed it would continue to build the KAMD system at the ROK-U.S. Security Consultative Meeting in October, there has been speculation that Washington still wants to include Seoul into its MD system.
In a trilateral summit with Korea, Japan and the U.S. in The Hague in March, U.S. President Barack Obama said they discussed specific steps to deepen military cooperation that included joint exercises and missile defense.
In addition, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported last week that the U.S. seeks an information-sharing agreement with Japan and South Korea to combat North Korea's missile threat.
"The specifics of the proposal include a plan to immediately share information among the three nations regarding any missile launch detected by South Korean radar," it said.
The Japanese media added that U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice proposed the plan to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during Obama's visit to Japan last month.
However, it will not be easy to reach a deal because of negative reactions Korea has had to Abe's recent rightward shift in his political ideology and actions.
Kim also said: "We basically recognize the need to share information regarding the North's nuclear weapons and missiles.
"However, we are poised to approach the issue, taking into consideration the public sentiment."
Seoul and Tokyo came close to a military intelligence sharing pact two years ago, but the move fell through due to strong domestic backlash because Koreans still harbor lingering resentment against its former colonial ruler.