S. Korea Vows Retaliation to North's Missiles

S. Korea Vows Retaliation to North's MissilesS. Korea Vows Retaliation to North's Missiles

North Korea made a key step in its nuclear weapons program by test-launching a ballistic missile from a submarine, but South Korea on Monday called the test "very serious and concerning" and urged Pyongyang to immediately stop developing submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), which it said hindered regional security.

"[South Korea] will completely sever the chain of provocations by mercilessly dealing with any provocations," South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo said in an emergency security meeting held on Monday to discuss the latest test, the Yonhap news agency reported.

"Retribution for provocations is an order from the people," Han said. "Our military will stand with solid military readiness and make flat-out efforts for citizens to lead their everyday lives at ease."

Kim Min-seok, spokesman for South Korea's defense ministry, on Monday urged North Korea to immediately stop developing SLBMs "which hinder the stability of the Korean peninsula and Northeast Asia."

A South Korean defense official said separately that North Korea could develop a fully operational submarine with ballistic missiles within two or three years.

However, experts believe that North Korea remains years away from developing a missile system or submarine which could threaten its sworn enemy the United States. "They need to build a new, bigger submarine," said Yang Uk, a senior research fellow at the Korea Defence and Security Forum and a policy adviser to the South Korean navy. North Korea is technically still at war with the South after their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, and regularly threatens the United States, the South's biggest ally, with destruction.

"While North Korea's submarines are not especially effective, the challenge of finding even a small number of specific submarines armed with missiles would be quite a challenge," said Jeffrey Lewis of the California-based Monterey Institute of International Studies. Like much of North Korea's arsenal, its fleet of around 70 submarines is based mainly on ageing, Soviet-era technology.

North Korea had been expected to be working on an SLBM, but the speed with which it conducted an apparently successful test launch caught many observers by surprise.