Deployment of THAAD will bring more tension

By Han Fangming
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, July 18, 2016
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South Korea and the United States announced recently that the U.S. Army's Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system will be deployed in South Korea by the end of 2017. This decision is designed to, in their words, "ensure the security of the ROK and its people and to protect alliance military forces from North Korea's weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile threats." This is, in fact, pretense.

South Korea has been debating for years whether the system should be deployed or not, and some have argued that the system would not resolve the security threat faced by South Korea, as weapons such as automatic cannons from North Korea could reach the capital Seoul without being intercepted by THAAD. Moreover, South Koreans are well aware that China and Russia will not be happy regarding the deployment of the system, and tension would be raised in China-ROK and Russia-ROK relations.

South Korea has been hesitant regarding the THAAD for years while, at the same time, they are addressing the pressure from the U.S. The reason why the country now decided to deploy the system is that the current administration, headed by President Park Geun-hye, was driven into a corner by the relentless missile experiments conducted by North Korea. Faced with opposition voices within South Korea, President Park has to play the America card to allay the domestic opposition. In other words, the administration decided to deploy the THAAD because it cannot cope with domestic pressure (rather than American pressure). Unfortunately though, the move will only bring more trouble to the country.

The Korean Peninsula has seen a number of problems since World War II. The six-party talks, which were introduced to address the nuclear issue in North Korea, were halted in 2009. Now that South Korea and the U.S. gave up their efforts to resolve the issue through dialogue and negotiation, more tension is expected to be raised on the Peninsula. South Korea may have had more cards to play in the issue, but as it now attaches itself to the U.S. with the THAAD, it has no one to depend on except Uncle Sam.

Is the U.S. dependable? It welcomes the deployment of THAAD not out of generosity to South Korea, but its own security interests. As North Korea continues developing its nuclear technology, the U.S. has been faced with increasing threats. It cannot tackle North Korea as it has done in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the only way out for it is to keep the conflicts within the Peninsula without letting them spill over to the U.S. mainland. In other words, if military conflicts do occur, the U.S. would prefer it taking place on the Korean Peninsula while maintaining its own safety.

Many are watching closely regarding how China will react to the THAAD. China has expressed strong dissatisfaction with and firm opposition to the decision. The deployment of THAAD will undermine China's strategic security interests, and moreover, it will add more fuel to the fire on the Korean Peninsula and jeopardize regional peace and stability.

The real risk of THAAD lies in inciting an arms race in the region and deteriorating regional security. If the U.S. and South Korea persist with the move willfully without taking into account other countries' security interests, a regional arms race will seem inevitable. If an arms race really took place, would the U.S. be able to pull through?

One possible scenario would mean it has to invest hugely in South Korea to arm it to the teeth, another would mean it won't be willing to invest its precious strategic resources in northeast Asia, where it does not claim much advantage due to the presence of China and Russia, let alone the fact that its economy won't be able to support the arms race right now. As a matter of fact, the U.S. presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has made remarks about the U.S. walking away from the region, though it is not ready to leave the region right away, it is not the strategic focus of the U.S.

How should the issue be resolved? In a word, countries should go back to the negotiating table and address the issue through dialogue and cooperation.

Han Fangming is the founding chairman of the Charhar Institute.

The article was written in Chinese and translated by Zhang Lulu.

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors only, not necessarily those of

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