THAAD Can No Longer Be a Political Football

      February 14, 2017 12:57

      The mid-range ballistic missile North Korea test-fired on Sunday was a sea-launched projectile upgraded to be launched on land and propelled by solid fuel, which makes it a lot more efficient as a weapon. Launched at a high angle it would have all of South Korea within target range and slam down on targets at a speed of mach 10, rendering Seoul's current PAC-3 Patriot missiles useless.

      The only weapons system capable of intercepting it is the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense battery from the U.S. because, as the name indicates, it intercepts incoming missiles at high altitudes.

      The U.S. and South Korea decided last July to deploy a THAAD battery here after observing how advanced North Korea's ballistic missiles have become. But the opposition here is against out of fear of irking China, which is afraid that the powerful radar mounted on the THAAD battery is intended to spy on it.

      That has raised fears that now that President Park eun-hye has fallen, the deployment could be delayed if a new president turns tail. Minjoo Party presidential hopeful Moon Jae-in, in particular, remains opposed to the THAAD deployment. He has called on the government to "reconsider" its decision to deploy it and "listen to public opinion." Now he says the next administration should make that decision, even though Seoul and Washington already agreed on the deployment.

      South Chungcheong Province Governor Ahn Hee-jung, another presidential hopeful, voiced his "respect" for the decision but is calling for a more thorough review of the weapon's technology. And Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myung is staunchly opposed to the deployment, calling it a demonstration of South Korea's "dependency" on the U.S.

      All of them say the North Korean nuclear impasse must be resolved through dialogue. Of course peaceful negotiations are by far the best option, but if there is to be any hope of success, North Korea must be persuaded that it cannot win by military means. If Pyongyang thinks that South Korea and the U.S. are completely defenseless against its missiles, it will never be persuaded to give them up. It will just keep making demands.

      That is why diplomacy can only come after military preparations have been made. The principle has been repeatedly proven throughout human history.

      South Korea’s Patriot missiles have already become useless against even North Korea's Rodong-class missiles, and now the North Korean menace will only grow worse. One side continues to bolster its punch, while the other side grows increasingly defenseless. This is as good as surrender.

      North Korea has stated clearly that it has no intention of giving up its nuclear weapons and missiles. Thae Yong-ho, the former North Korean deputy ambassador to the U.K. who defected last year, said the North will not give them up even if it is paid US$10 trillion. This means South Korea's presidential hopefuls must urgently rethink their position on the THAAD deployment. Voters need to know exactly what each candidate thinks.

      When the North test-fired its upgraded missile, U.S. President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was visiting Washington, held a joint press conference the same night. But here acting president Hwang Kyo-ahn did not even convene a National Security Council meeting.

      Hwang was briefed by security officials but instead attended scheduled meetings to deal with the bird flu and foot-and-mouth outbreaks. Hwang's office said he was simply following regulations that require the president, who heads the NSC, to convene a meeting in case of a North Korean nuclear test or long-range missile launch, but the NSC chief oversees meetings in other events.

      Under normal circumstances that would perhaps be enough, but with the president suspended and the chaotic new U.S. administration just a few weeks old, the latest North Korean missile test comes amid anything but a normal situation.

      Politicians here still suffer from the traditional habit of burying their heads in the sand, while presidential hopefuls are busy making populist comments without looking at the actual problems in hand. As Seoul wallows in its ineffectiveness, Japan is fast emerging as the key regional player on strategic matters. Everyone needs to wake up, and fast.

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