SEOUL — Pride and jealousy have driven North and South Korea to engage in propaganda shouting matches and compete over who could build a taller flagpole on their border. Now that one-upmanship is intensifying a much more dangerous side of their rivalry: the arms race.
Earlier this month, South Korea’s dream of building its own supersonic fighter jet was realized when it unveiled the KF-21, developed at a cost of $7.8 billion. The country also recently revealed plans to acquire dozens of new American combat helicopters. When President Moon Jae-in visited the Defense Ministry’s Agency for Defense Development last year, he said South Korea had “developed a short-range ballistic missile with one of the largest warheads in the world.”
Unlike North Korea, the South lacks nuclear weapons. But in recent years the country has revved up its military spending, procuring American stealth jets and building increasingly powerful conventional missiles capable of targeting North Korean missile facilities and war bunkers.
Korea Institute for National Unification, a government-funded research group.
The two Koreas have long been locked in a perpetual arms race. But Pyongyang’s growing nuclear capabilities, coupled with the fear of a withdrawal of American troops from South Korea under President Donald J. Trump, added to those tensions.
While in office, Mr. Moon has increased South Korea’s annual military spending by an average of 7 percent, compared with the 4.1 percent average of his predecessor. After diplomacy failed to eliminate the North’s nuclear arsenal, Mr. Moon had to reassure South Koreans that their country was not a “sitting duck,” said Yoon Suk-joon, a researcher at the Korea Institute for Military Affairs.
Soon after Mr. Moon’s visit to the Agency for Defense Development, South Korean media reported that the weapon he referred to was the Hyunmoo-4, a missile tested last year. According to missile experts, the Hyunmoo-4 can fly 497 miles, enough to target all of North Korea. Its two-ton payload — unusually large for a short-range missile — could destroy the North’s underground missile bases.
launched a new ballistic missile of its own and said the weapon flew 372 miles with a 2.5-ton warhead. The test prompted Mr. Moon to claim the following day that South Korea had “world-class missile capabilities, enough to defend ourselves while abiding by our commitment to make the Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons.”