The Thaad dilemma

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The Thaad dilemma

The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) missile system is officially an issue. After President Park Geun-hye mentioned a plan to consider its deployment at her Jan. 13 press conference to meet growing security challenges, Defense Minister Han Min-koo followed suit by underscoring the need to study the deployment of the system to protect Korea against incoming missiles.

Active consideration of its deployment is guaranteed to spark a sensitive reaction from China. If the system is deployed in South Korea with its X-Band Radar’s 660-kilometers (410 miles) range, the United States can have an access to sensitive military movements in Northeast China. Diplomatic experts believe Seoul has repeatedly mentioned a possible need for the deployment to pressure Beijing to play an active role in addressing the North Korean nuclear issue.

Though China will certainly feel pressure, our government must deal with the Thaad deployment from the perspective of our national security irrespective of Beijing’s jitters. The Korean government faces a totally new circumstance in which we cannot delay discussions on the deployment any more after Pyongyang conducted its fourth nuclear test and third flight test of submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM). Given the North’s alarming speed in developing nuclear weapons and the SLBMs, we cannot simply wait for the development of the Korean Air and Missile Defense (KAMD) System, which was an earlier plan that China would have been far more comfortable with.

But the Thaad deployment could require a massive investment by us. Not to mention the cost of 3 trillion won ($2.49 billion) per artillery battery, the system calls for significant additional expenditures for maintenance and repairs. In addition, opponents contend that the system would not be effective in intercepting high-altitudes missiles on the Korean Peninsula due to the relatively short distance they would fly. Moreover, the deployment could serve as a major stumbling block in paving the way for reunification over the long haul by fueling unnecessary competition between Washington and Beijing in Northeast Asia. Our government should look into all these aspects before making a final decision on the deployment.

At the same time, the government must make efforts to persuade China about the need for the Thaad system along with multilateral diplomacy with our neighbors so that North Korea can recognize that it could risk a regime change if it does not scrap its nuclear ambitions.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 27, Page 30

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