South Korean ruling party lawmakers have called for the construction of submarines with nuclear propulsion to counter the threat of North Korea’s submarine-launched ballistic missiles.
The defense against the North’s SLBMs is nuclear-powered submarines that can keep watch for its submarines and strike before they fire missiles.
North Korea test-fired a SLBM last week near Sinpo on the North’s eastern coast. The SLBM flew some 500 kilometers and fell into waters 80 kilometers inside Japan’s air defense identification zone.
Nuclear-powered submarines can remain submerged for months, while diesel-powered ones can operate underwater for a maximum of two to three weeks.
South is vulnerable to the North’s SLBMs as it is surrounded by the sea on three sides, the group of South Korean lawmakers were quoted as saying by The Korean Herald Thursday.
Rep. Chung Jin-suk, the party’s floor leader, joined the lawmakers in urging the government to build nuclear submarines. He also referred to the South Korean military’s failed attempt in 2003, then under President Roh Moo-hyun to construct 4,000-ton nuclear submarines. Defense Minister Han Min-koo responded that his ministry would study the possibility of building nuclear submarines.
Technically, South Korea can build nuclear-powered submarines on its own but it would take the nation eight to 10 years to design and construct them, Experts say. Moreover, the government has to take into consideration other aspects of the matter. If South Korea builds nuclear submarines, it would breach its denuclearization principle, which is enshrined in the 1992 joint declaration of South and North Korea.
South Korea was sticking to the principle, obliging itself to use nuclear energy only for peaceful purposes. This principle underlies the South’s demands for the North’s dismantling of its nuclear programs. Hence, if the South violates the principle, it would weaken the foundation of its push for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Moreover, Seoul will have to obtain cooperation from the US in using its nuclear technology for the construction of nuclear submarines, as the Korea-US atomic energy agreement, which was revised last year, bans technology and equipment that originates from the US being used for military purposes.
The South Korean defense officials said, North Korea would need one to three years to deploy SLBMs. North Korean leader Kim Jung-un already ordered last year the construction of new submarines that can carry two to three ballistic missiles.
The North’s deployment of SLBMs would significantly amplify its nuclear threat as missiles launched from underwater are more difficult to detect and destroy.
The South’s land-based missile defense system would be useless if the North’s submarines invade deep into the south undetected and fire SLBMs from behind.