10.02.2016 Author: Konstantin Asmolov

Deployment of US Missile Defense Systems in South Korea

4534534534The launch of a North Korean carrier rocket, which certain agenda-driven groups equate with combat missile testing, has significantly boosted the development of the US and KR “defense” programs. We have already covered the way this “fright” came about, paying particular attention to the possibility of deployment of the US missile defense complexes THAAD (which stands for Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense) on the Korean peninsula.

And so, a few hours after the announcement of the launch, the South Korean news agency Yonhap informed that the United States and South Korea have decided to start formal negotiations on the possibility of “the deployment of US THAAD systems in Korea to improve the effectiveness of missile defense of the US-Korean alliance in response to the growing threat from North Korea”. Informal talks on the deployment of THAAD missile defense system have also been reported by the Wall Street Journal.

Since the talks about it have been going on for a long time, North Korean actions are not even a pretext or a justification of what has long been discussed. Back on January 25, the KR Defense Minister, Han Min Gu, stated that the issue had to be considered within the national security and defense framework; deployment of the complex in the Republic of Korea is a hot topic of discussion, for adoption of THAAD by the US forces stationed on the Korean peninsula will have a positive impact on the strengthening of Korea’s defense capability.

On February 1, during the Supreme Council session of the ruling Saenuri party its leader Kim Moo Song stressed that the issue of THAAD deployment should be considered in a positive light. The North Korean nuclear test yet again demonstrated the seriousness of the threat, and that is why the issue of system deployment needs no consideration of other countries’ opinions.

The latter remark is quite significant since both Russia and the PRC clearly disagree. Thus, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying, said that the decision to locate the US missile defense system THAAD on its territory must be proceeded with caution. As the current situation on the Korean Peninsula is very complicated, the security interests of other countries, as well as those of regional peace and stability must be taken into account when upholding internal security.

On February 2, a similar view was expressed by Russian Ambassador to the Republic of Korea, Alexander Timonin: having THAAD on the Korean Peninsula will not help solve the North Korean nuclear issue. But – Russia will not leave the possibility of THAAD deployment in the Republic of Korea unnoticed when determining its foreign policy.

The fact that the long-range missile interception system (THAAD) in South Korea may threaten Russia’s security was brought up by the head of the State Duma Defense Committee, Vladimir Komoedov: “The US promises to deploy missile defense system in Korea are not good for us. It is a threat to us and our nuclear forces. It will not enhance our security.

Yet, on January 13, 2016, the President of the Republic of Korea, Park Geun-hye, made a statement that the decision to deploy systems needs to be taken in view of security concerns, so it can be inferred that Seoul and Washington are in the process of negotiations.

The missile defense issue can be summarized as follows. According to the RK military, South Korea’s missile complex KAMD and missile defense system Kill Chain do not have the capacity to effectively intercept ballistic missiles of the enemy. KAMD is a short-range missile interception system, while the THAAD system is a complex targeted at medium-range missiles at an altitude of more than a hundred kilometers.

In the opinion of other specialists, despite the fact that the US emphasise the defensive aspect of the system, it can nonetheless be used as part of an offensive weapon, and, instead of strengthening, it can undermine the mutual deterrence system.

The present military balance is largely based on the idea that in case of a conflict, the two sides have pushed the red buttons, and hence there cannot be a winner. A missile defence system that is theoretically capable of intercepting the enemy’s strike, reduces the likelihood of “mutual destruction” and creates a seductive temptation for the side that possesses it to launch a first strike and escape retaliation. That means, you can unleash a conflict with impunity. In addition, the system is also aimed at neutralizing missiles and long-range artillery systems that have recently been actively developed by Beijing. The THAAD radars cover a distance of up to 18,000 km, which is excessive for suppressing DPRK, but fits well into the strategy of containment of China and Russia.

In the current geopolitical situation, PRC finds itself surrounded by US military bases, including those located in Korea. American troops can deliver strikes from this area on to Chinese territory, while PRC is deprived of such an opportunity. An attack on these bases could substantially level the odds, but the presence of the missile defense system reduces the chances of China’s successful incapacitation of them at the beginning of the conflict.
For this reason, even South Korean experts consider THAAD «a tool of strategic and psychological pressure
. In addition, their positioning on the territory of the Republic of Korea will not just strengthen the military alliance between the two countries, but will also increase the likelihood that in the case of a serious conflict, South Korea may become a battleground that extends far beyond the specific area of THAAD placement.

Thus, we can agree with the observation made in the article of the North Korean newspaper “Rodong Sinmun” on February 5: THAAD missile defense system is aimed at increasing pressure on China and Russia by creating a base in the Republic of Korea for the implementation of its aggressive policy, and Washington’s tenacity in pursuing this matter puts the world’s stability under great threat compared with the status quo.

“At the time this issue went to press,” it was reported that the RK and the US have started official negotiations. The decision was made ​​at the proposal of General Curtis Scaparrotti, the commander of US forces on the Korean Peninsula, and it is expected that one complex will be positioned in the Republic of Korea. It will cost around $1.2 billion. The Korean Ministry of Defense reported that Seoul will not acquire THAAD, but will merely provide land and infrastructure.

Immediately after the above decision became known, Deputy Chinese Foreign Minister, Liu Zhenmin, urgently summoned RK’s Ambassador, Kim Chang-soo, to voice China’s protest and reconfirm Beijing’s former position on this issue. Note that this series of actions shows that China’s problem with deployment of THAAD systems in the Republic of Korea is as serious as North Korea’s rocket launch: after the launch of the DPRK’s carrier rocket, Beijing handed a protest note to the Ambassador of Korea in China, Chi Zhe Ryonu, in exactly the same manner.

Konstantin Asmolov, PhD of History, leading researcher, Center for Korean research Institute of Far Eastern studies, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook“.