In security consultation, no exchange on Thaad

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In security consultation, no exchange on Thaad

During a high-level security consultation, the United States and Korea did not discuss Washington’s possible deployment of a controversial antiballistic missile defense system to Seoul, the American defense chief said, temporarily silencing concerns about a move that would undoubtedly disturb the security climate in North Asia.

Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo and U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel held their annual Security Consultative Meeting on Thursday local time in Washington, where they talked about a wide range of military issues.

Both sides agreed to implement Seoul’s proposal for a conditions-based approach to transferring wartime operational control to Korea. The new date of the handover will be decided later after evaluating Seoul’s defensive capabilities against a growing North Korean threat. The handover will be implemented once the security climate surrounding the peninsula is stable enough to support the transfer.

Following the meeting, the two defense chiefs addressed the press, when Hagel denied that Seoul and Washington had talked about deploying to Korea the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, an advanced missile-defense system better known as Thaad.

“First, no decisions on Thaad have been made. There have been no formal consultations with the Korean government and the American government at any level,” he said. “Obviously, all options are always being explored with our allies, but no formal consultations, no decisions have been made.”

With North Korea’s intensifying nuclear and missile threats, it was speculated that the Pentagon was considering deploying the system, designed to intercept ballistic missiles using a hit-to-kill approach. While Korean officials have denied that a discussion took place on the issue, other defense officials, including Robert Work, U.S. deputy secretary of defense, and Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the commander of U.S. Forces Korea, talked about the possibility.

Hagel’s commentary was the first public denial by the Pentagon’s highest-ranking official. The deployment of Thaad to Korea is a sensitive issue. China and Russia have both expressed unease over the fact that Thaad is equipped with a radar system that can cover a range of more than 1,000 kilometers, about 600 miles.

But while Hagel’s comments temporarily alleviated those concerns, Seoul and Washington’s decision to delay wartime operational control faced mixed reactions here. While no specific date was determined for the transfer following the delay, Korean officials said it will take place around 2020.

One senior Defense Ministry official said the takeover will be possible “sometime between 2022 and 2027,” noting that the “Kill Chain,” a pre-emptive missile destruction system, and the Korea Air and Missile Defense system to deter the North’s threats are expected to be completed around 2022.

In 2006, Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and U.S. President George W. Bush agreed that Korea would take over wartime operational control over its troops. In 2007, the date of that transfer was set to April 2012.

At the 2010 summit, President Lee Myung-bak asked U.S. President Barack Obama to delay the transfer and the request was accepted. At the time, the new date was set to Dec. 1, 2015.

With the latest decision to delay it again, Korea has gained seven to 12 years to prepare for the change amid increasing North Korean threats.

The opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), meanwhile, concentrated its firepower to attack the Park Geun-hye administration for requesting the delay.

“Park pledged during the presidential election that wartime operational control of Korean troops would be taken back without disruption,” said Moon Hee-sang, the interim leader of the main opposition party. “But it was an empty promise.

“The Park government is ignoring the people’s desire to correct this anomaly, that Korea will ask another country to control its military in time of war,” said Moon, who served as the presidential chief of staff for the late President Roh, who initiated the transfer and pushed it forward.

But the Blue House yesterday defended its decision.

“This is an issue that we must look at coolly and with a realistic view on national security, rather than as simply keeping a presidential pledge to respect the planned transfer date,” said presidential spokesman Min Kyung-wook.

“The government’s stance that Korea must exercise wartime operational control remains unchanged. But we must prepare for the transfer, taking into account the growing threat of the North’s nuclear and missile programs,” Min said. “A more stable transfer will eventually contribute to deterring the North’s provocations and war ambitions, and reinforce the combined defense capabilities of Korea and the United States.”

Concerns also remain here about the financial strains the country has had to shoulder in order to improve its military capabilities. The Kill Chain and the Korea Air and Missile Defense systems are estimated to cost at least 17 trillion won ($16 billion).

Developing next-generation multiple-rocket launcher systems, known as Cheonmu, to counter the North’s long-range artillery by 2020 will also cost an additional several trillion won.

Upgrading the country’s air-defense capabilities though the purchase of F-35 stealth fighter jets and developing advanced multi-role fighter jets will also take up about another 40 trillion won. Similarly, introducing reconnaissance systems, including a military satellite and Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and AEGIS-class destroyers, will be another hefty expense.

It is estimated that Korea will have to spend roughly 60 trillion won to efficiently bolster its capabilities before the transfer. That amount far exceeds the Defense Ministry’s budget for this year at 35.71 trillion won.


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