Seoul struggles with N Korea deterrence

SEOUL - Skepticism is growing over the South Korean military's ongoing efforts to counter North Korea's escalated nuclear threat amid increasing calls for a major revamp of its ineffective deterrence strategies and weapons systems.

After the North's third atomic test on Tuesday, Seoul's Defence Ministry vowed to accelerate the processes of building the "Kill Chain," a preemptive strike system, and deploying strategic ballistic missiles, which can cover the whole area of North Korea.

On Thursday, it also unveiled strategic ship-to-ground, submarine-to-ground cruise missiles, underscoring they were capable of surgically striking "specific windows of the North Korean leadership's offices."

But these may not be effective enough to cope with the North's asymmetrical military strategies and assets that include nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, analysts pointed out.

"North Korea now exploits asymmetric and non-linear forms of warfare. It has adapted to the US-ROK (Republic of Korea) military superiority by finding strategies and exploiting the capabilities of asymmetric negation," said Michael Raska, research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University.

"Therefore, South Korea's new defence strategy must now allow greater flexibility and adaptability to shifts in strategic environment with military forces having the flexibility and robustness to operate in divergent scenarios."

To this end, Raska stressed Seoul should pursue military innovation and break away from its long-standing, "static, defensive posture" emphasizing conflict and war avoidance, path dependence and over-reliance on the US forces.

The "Kill Chain" system is at the centre of Seoul's preemptive strike theory. Mobilizing all intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance assets of the South Korea-US combined forces, the system aims to launch strikes within some 30 minutes after signs of Pyongyang's imminent nuclear or missile provocations are detected.

Seoul initially planned to construct the system by 2015 to target the North's key missile bases and nuclear facilities including those in its main Yongbyon complex. It consists of four implementation stages ? detection, assessment, decision and strike.

"Using mobile launchers, the North may launch a strike and move away within some 20 minutes. It is very difficult to detect and hit each one of them in a short period of time," said a military expert, who declined to be named, citing his organisation's policy.

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