Tuesday, March 9, 2010

North Korea Establishes Medium-Range Missile Group, Report Claims

North Korea has established a new army detachment that oversees the country's recently developed arsenal of medium-range missiles that can travel more than 1,860 miles, the Associated Press reported today (see GSN, Oct. 29, 2009).

Relying on an anonymous South Korean government source, the Yonhap News Agency reported that Pyongyang's People's Army created the division to manage the fielding of missiles that could be used to strike U.S. military installations in locations including Guam and Japan.

The missiles could be intended to keep the United States from moving Pacific-based troops to the Korean Peninsula should conflict break out with the North, said Seoul-based analyst Baek Seung-joo. The U.S. Defense Department already has nearly 30,000 personnel in South Korea.

No information was provided as to the number of missiles in the new division or where they are deployed.

The South Korean Defense Ministry today said it could not affirm the Yonhap report. A 2009 report from the agency indicated that North Korea was fielding a new kind of intermediate-range missile that was thought to have been publicly exhibited at a 2007 military parade.

Should the report prove accurate, it would indicate that the aspiring nuclear state had been able to create additional intermediate-range missiles over the last three years and now required a larger unit to oversee those weapons, South Korean analyst Ohm Tae-am said.

Last spring, North Korea carried out a rocket launch that the international community said contravened a U.N. Security Council resolution that bars the nation from carrying out any ballistic missile-related work. The North responded to the criticism by leaving nuclear disarmament negotiations and conducting its second nuclear test (Hyung-Jin Kim, Associated Press/Washington Post, March 9).

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