The new South Korean government of President Park Geun-hye finds itself in a difficult situation. On the one hand, it must respond to North Korea’s missile threats to avert more serious ones. On the other, it must do so without provoking Pyongyang or Beijing. Chinese officials are already concerned by South Korea’s strengthening security ties with the U.S. as well as by Seoul’s recent decision, supported by Washington, to acquire longer-range offensive ballistic missiles capable of reaching Chinese territory. But responding to the urgent North Korean threat requires bold action, and, despite Beijing’s complaints, the added pressure that closer U.S.-South Korean ties put on China to rein in Pyongyang could prove helpful.
During the past decade, the United States has made considerable progress in addressing global missile threats by augmenting U.S. and allied missile defenses. In Europe, Asia and the Middle East, the United States has been working to establish the foundations for regional ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems made up of U.S. forward-deployed BMD systems combined with those of U.S. friends and allies. In each region, the Obama administration has been pursuing a phased, adaptive approach that adjusts U.S. BMD policies in a flexible manner as the relevant missile threats evolve.
The United States has been pursuing BMD cooperation, including joint research and development programs as well as selling BMD systems, with various countries in Europe, both bilaterally and through NATO; in the Asia-Pacific, with Japan, Australia and South Korea; and in the Middle East, with Israel and Gulf Cooperation Council members. These allies and friends can host forward-based BMD sensors and missile interceptors, share the costs of building and maintaining the BMD architecture, and network their sensor data to provide a superior operational picture.