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South Korea tests first submarine-launched ballistic missile; what it means for the region

Mini

The missile is part of South Korea’s new military doctrine to counter the threat posed by its nuclear rival, North Korea. The SLBM is also meant to send a powerful message to increasingly-aggressive China.

South Korea tests first submarine-launched ballistic missile; what it means for the region
South Korea joined an elite club of countries after it successfully tested its first submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). The country test-launched its Hyunmoo-2B ballistic missile, with a 500 km range, from the 3,000-tonne Dosan Ahn Chang-ho submarine last week, reported Yonhap news agency.
SLBMs are at the apex of military technology, with only the United States, China, Russia, France, India, the UK and North Korea having the capability of launching them. The key difference between Hyunmoo-2B and the SLBMs from the other nations is that the South Korean missile does not carry a nuclear payload.
A new doctrine
This missile is part of the new military doctrine of the Republic of Korea (ROK). South Korea’s chief threat remains its neighbour to the north, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), which has its own nuclear SLBMs, as showcased in a military parade last year. Along with nuclear weapons, the DPRK military is also thought to possess biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction.
South Korean strategies, in case of imminent or outright warfare, need to account for such strategic threats from the North. That’s where the ‘Kill Chain’ and ‘Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation’ (KMPR) strategies come in.
‘Kill Chain’ is ROK’s pre-emptive strike strategy. In case intelligence and surveillance assets find a reasonable threat of a military attack from the North Korean regime, the South Korean military would mobilise strike teams to hit key installations. These include nuclear, missile, and long-range artillery facilities. ‘Kill Chain’ would try to prevent further escalation and would not target other key targets while avoiding collateral damage with precision strikes.
KMPR is a similar strategy but with one essential difference -- it is undertaken after a nuclear or conventional attack from North Korea. In addition to hitting the military facilities of North Korea, the attack would also target the political and military leadership of the DPRK, in order to escalate an internal regime change.
Importance of SLBMs
For both of its strategies, ROK needs to possess precise, long-range and significantly destructive missiles in order to breach the defensive structures around key DPRK installations. The presence of conventional missiles leaves them vulnerable to first strike platforms used by North Korea. SLBMs are much harder to detect and disable as they are launched from mobile, underwater platforms like submarines.
Apart from being a deterrence to DPRK, the new SLBMs will also act as a counterweight to increasing Chinese aggression over territorial and maritime claims in the South China Sea. South Korea’s SLBMs will not carry any nuclear payload, due to existing treaties between the nation and the US, as well as South Korea’s participation in various nuclear non-proliferation treaties. But the South Korean military is long thought to have the technological knowhow to quickly assemble a nuclear weapon.
Impact on other countries
South Korea’s new military developments will have varied impact on the countries in the region. An ally against Chinese and North Korean aggression, Japan may welcome the move as a potential deterrent against the two nuclear-armed states. Japan, the only nation to be a victim of a nuclear attack, has long chosen to keep away from a treaty banning nuclear weapons. Experts believe that Japan, while not a nuclear power, can quickly assemble the weapons as it has both the technology and raw materials at its disposal.
Perhaps, DPRK -- which has been ramping up its development of nuclear weapons after developing them with the help of Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan -- will now be forced to resume talks on denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula with its southern neighbours and the US.