The United States of America has formally proposed the sale of ‘Global Hawk’ spy drones to South Korea.
The controversial sale will allow the government in Seoul to take more complete control over its own defense against threats posed by the communist North. Currently the United States, which together with South Korea has never officially ended its war with North Korea, maintains substantial control over many of the the South’s military command structures.
According to a statement issued by the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency on Tuesday, South Korea has expressed an interest in purchasing four Northrop Grumman Corp RQ-4 ‘Global Hawk’ drones – which come with a hefty $1.2 billion price tag. The unmanned aerial vehicles comes with advanced surveillance capabilities, which South Korea needs in order full responsibility for intelligence operations back from the U.S. led ‘Combined Forces Command’. The handover of power has been set for 2015, and both countries are now working to ensure that it goes smoothly and does not leave the South open to aggression from the North.
“The proposed sale of the RQ-4 will maintain adequate intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities and will ensure the alliance is able to monitor and deter regional threats in 2015 and beyond,” said the Pentagon statement.
South Korea has shown an interest in buying the high-altitude, long-distance spy drones for around 4 years, but the sale has been held up due to to concerns that the sale may break the rules of the ‘Missile Technology Control Regime’ (MTCR). The MTCR is a voluntary 34 nation strong arms control pact which seeks to slow the spread of ballistic missiles and unmanned delivery systems capable of being used to launch biological, chemical or nuclear attacks. Under the terms of the pact, members have agreed to limit the sale of systems able to carry a payload of 500kg or higher over a distance of 300 km (186 miles). Under these terms the Global Hawk system would fall under the category of ‘strong presumption against export’.
A U.S. government waiver would be required for the sale of Global Hawk drones, and a 2008 sale was put on the back-burner due to concerns about breaking the rules of the MTCR. Although the deal has not yet been finalised, it looks highly likely that it will go through this time around. Earlier this year the Obama administration agreed a waiver to the MTCR for South Korea, who are also signed up to the treaty, allowing them to increase the range of their ballistic missile system so that it covers the whole of North Korea, which goes beyond the 300km limit set by the pact.
Arms control campaigners have expressed concern that the sale could increase tensions in the region and provoke a renewed arms race. The U.S. sale of advanced technology to South Korea could also provide diplomatic leeway for countries such as China and Russia to expand military exports to North Korea.