Defense, Foreign Ministries in Quandary Over THAAD

  • By Kim Jin-myung

    May 18, 2017 11:19

    The defense and foreign ministries are in a quandary after Cheong Wa Dae and the ruling party said they want the National Assembly to ratify the controversial deployment of a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense battery from the U.S. here.

    The two ministries, which have not been re-staffed since President Moon Jae-in came to power last week, have toed the party line of the previous Park Geun-hye administration that the THAAD deployment is not a matter for lawmakers to decide.

    But the Minjoo Party cites Article 60 of the Constitution, which stipulates that the National Assembly has the right to approve or disapprove treaties that pose significant fiscal burdens on the nation.

    The government acquired a W89 billion piece of land in Seongju, North Gyeongsang Province through a land swap with Lotte Group to station the THAAD battery on, and the lawmakers say that does constitute a significant fiscal burden (US$1=W1,123).

    But the Defense Ministry has argued that the deployment is simply part of a long-standing mutual defense treaty with the U.S. and does not constitute a new treaty requiring National Assembly ratification.

    Article 4 of the defense pact stipulates the right of American forces to deploy weapons systems here, and Article 5 of the Status of Forces Agreement says the U.S. shoulders all costs of maintaining American soldiers on the Korean Peninsula, while Korea provides the land and infrastructure.

    The ministry also said that there has been no precedent where the National Assembly has reviewed plans by the U.S. Forces Korea to deploy a new weapons system, and THAAD cannot be an exception. 

    A Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense launcher sits on a former golf course in Seongju, North Gyeonsang Province on Wednesday.

    The two ministries appeared to retreat from their positions when Moon raised the need to seek parliamentary ratification. One government official said, "We're not seeking to send back the THAAD battery, which has already been deployed, but National Assembly ratification is necessary to address critics. We should be able to convince the U.S. that this is needed."

    The official added the real problem is gaining the understanding of China, which still demands the removal of the battery.

    Beijing claims that the battery's powerful radar could be used to spy on its military activities, though Seoul and Washington have insisted that it is only intended as a defense against North Korean missiles.

    Meanwhile, the U.S. military already put the THAAD system's powerful X-band radar into operation last month. It says the battery is ready to intercept North Korean missile attacks, and the X-band radar detected North Korea's missile launch last weekend.

    Two out of six THAAD launchers that have been brought into the country are in operation, while the rest are still in storage.

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