SEOUL, South Korea —

In a reversal of long-standing policy, South Korea is looking to cooperate with the U.S. global missile defense initiative.

The move follows the landslide victory of Lee Myung-bak in the Dec. 19 presidential election. Lee pledged to improve the strained relations Seoul has had with Washington in the past 10 years under the liberal Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun governments, which opposed any ideas that could interfere with their engagement policy toward North Korea.

A senior official of the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff

said the senior officers

recently provided Lee’s transition team with suggestions on how to participate in the U.S. ballistic missile defense (BMD) effort in the region aimed at intercepting ballistic missiles from North Korea.


ideas include providing missile launch sites to the U.S. military, joining with the United States in developing BMD programs and sharing the cost of deploying the U.S. BMD system in South Korea, the official said.

In January

, the Ministry of National Defense briefed the team separately on the U.S.-led missile defense network and the U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative, which is aimed at interdicting North Korean ships suspected of carrying material that could be used for weapons of mass destruction.

Another option is purchasing advanced U.S. missile defense systems to increase interoperability with the U.S. BMD network, the official said, citing the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) system and up-to-date Standard Missile ship-to-air interceptors.

“The U.S. government will be sure to ask us to join their BMD programs after the inauguration of the Lee Myung-bak administration, as it did for the past decade,” the official said. “On the other hand, our government may offer to join the programs first in a bid to enhance our missile intercepting capability.

“That’s why we are reviewing various ways to cooperate on the U.S. BMD initiative,” he said. “The bottom line is that we will go in a direction toward developing our low-altitude intercept shield into an extended missile defense system.”

However, Park Chang-kwon, chief researcher at the Center for Security and Strategy at the state-funded Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, said budget constraints and regional politics would prevent Seoul from joining the U.S. BMD umbrella any time soon.

“Providing missile launch sites would likely provoke severe backlash from neighboring powers such as China and Russia, as well as North Korea,” Park said Jan. 23. He cited the U.S. plan to deploy missile defense bases and radar units in Poland and the Czech Republic, which stalled after Russian opposition.

“I’m also skeptical if South Korea could join the BMD development, in which only Japan is taking part, in terms of our technological level and Washington’s efforts to protect its state-of-the-art missile defense technology,” he said.

The researcher said the most feasible option might be introducing PAC-3 systems or advanced ship-to-air missiles that can be operationally integrated into the U.S. missile defense sensor and command network


South Korea

already might be pushing for that. A military source from the Air Force Operations Command in Osan, some 70 kilometers south of here, said South Korea will buy PAC-3 systems under a second-phase SAM-X program.

The command and the U.S. 7th Air Force, under the Combined Air Component Command, are in charge of surface-to-air defense operations on the Korean Peninsula, using PAC-2 and

PAC-3 interceptors.

South Korea planned to deploy PAC-3 systems to replace aging ground-to-air Nike Hercules missiles in 2000, but budgetary issues and anti-U.S. sentiments modified the plan.

To establish a low-altitude missile defense shield, dubbed the Korea air and missile defense

network system, Seoul plans to introduce used PAC-2 systems from Germany under the $1 billion SAM-X project beginning this year.

The Defense Acquisition Program Administration approved the purchase last September of 48 second-hand PAC-2 launch modules, radars and missiles, including the Patriot Anti-Tactical Missile and Guidance Enhanced Missile Plus

from Germany.

The agency plans to buy Raytheon’s ground-control equipment to support two Patriot system battalions.

Meanwhile, Aegis destroyers will be outfitted with Standard Missile 2 air-defense interceptors

, and a ballistic missile early warning radar will be built by the state-run Agency for Defense Development with foreign technology.

The terminal-phase defense is designed to take down low-flying, short- and medium-range missiles from North Korea, which is believed to have deployed near the border more than 600 Scud missiles with a range of 320 to 500 kilometers, and 200 Rodong missiles that can hit Japan.

To upgrade its ballistic missile interception capability, the navy unveiled Jan. 22 a plan to equip its Aegis destroyers with the Standard Missile 6

extended-range active missile being developed by Raytheon Co. of Waltham, Mass., and the U.S. Navy.

The missile is believed to be capable of destroying aircraft, cruise missiles and intermediate-range ballistic missiles at altitudes as high as 29 kilometers.