Say no to ThaadWhat should be the major premise of “managing the national division” — or in other words, our North Korea policy? There is no question about it: It is preventing a war.
Former commander of the U.S. Forces Korea, Curtis Scaparrotti, testified during a hearing of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee that another war on the Korean Peninsula would be “more akin to the Korean War and World War II — very complex, probably high casualty.”
He also told the Senate’s Armed Services Committee that North Korea’s young ruler Kim Jong-un will likely use weapons of mass destruction if he fears the fate of the regime. If North Korea uses nuclear and biochemical weapons, the Korea-U.S. Combined Forces is forced to respond with the same weaponry.
Bruce Klingner, a senior research fellow for Northeast Asia at The Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center and former official of the Central Intelligence Agency, also said a war simulation on the Korean Peninsula showed that we will win the war, but the damage would be comparable to that of World War I. After the war, the peninsula would be reduced to ashes and filled with nuclear materials and poison gas. Unification on top of a ruin is not what we want.
Seoul and Washington are having a negotiation over whether a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system will be deployed on the peninsula. The deployment is aimed at deterring attacks on the South’s major installations from the North’s 1,000-kilometer Scud missiles or 1,300-kilometer Rodong missiles. Today, the South’s defense shield is Pac-2 missiles and Pac-3s are set to be introduced next year.
As the Patriot missiles’ altitude is about 40 kilometers, they can intercept Scud and Rodong missiles flying at the speed of Mach 4 or 5, but only at the low-tier terminal-phase. That means there is only one chance to shoot down the enemy missile before it reaches the target. Thaad is a means to make up for this weakness. It primarily intercepts missiles at an altitude of 150 kilometers, known as the high-tier terminal-phase.
Let’s think more reasonably. What is the situation in which the Thaad or Pac-3 will be used? The most likely scenario is that localized combat in the North’s South Hwanghae province or the South’s capital region will widen into a full-scale war.
The North’s multiple rocket launchers and long-range artillery could attack Seoul and the capital region fiercely and 4,000 North Korean tanks could cross the armistice line. If the situation does not go favorably, the North would use its nuclear weapons and more than 5,000 tons of chemical weapons.
A modern war is a five-dimensional war of Army, Navy, Air Force, space and cyber campaigns. The North’s cyber attack capabilities have already been proven with its hackings of tSony Pictures in the U.S. and South Korean financial institutions and media. The North’s cyber unit will try to paralyze the command and control function of the Korea-U.S. Combined Forces at the early stages of the war.
As we could gain one more opportunity to shoot down the incoming enemy missiles, it’s better to have the Thaad system than not. But we have to calculate what we will lose in return as a result of China’s resistance.
Seoul and Washington tell Beijing repeatedly that the Thaad system is not targeting China but is only meant to deter the North’s missiles. But China sees it as a part of a joint missile defense system to be established by Japan, Korea and the United States.
After U.S. President Barack Obama visited Vietnam in May and lifted an arms export embargo on the country, China’s victim mentality was further stimulated. In order to check China’s expansion strategy in the East and South China Seas, the United States is steadily building security networks with two or three countries in groups, such as India, Vietnam, the Philippines, Australia and Japan. But every time America does so, North Korea’ strategic value to China skyrockets.
The revival of the nuclear connection between North Korea and Pakistan through China is already reported. The more Uncle Sam pressures Beijing in the East and South China Seas, China’s participation in international sanctions on North Korea will inevitably weaken.
South Korea has two choices. First is making China an undisputed sponsor of the North in return for the Thaad deployment. Second is giving up on the Thaad system and pressuring China to more aggressively sanction the North. The right answer is to give up on the Thaad deployment.
Korea-U.S. relations have room to allow a little bit of a retreat. But Korea-China relations have no such a margin. If our ultimate goal is preventing a war, the North’s will to stage provocations won’t be deterred by having the Thaad system. Our best policy is to give up on Thaad and borrow China’s influence to prevent the North’s provocations.
Our pro-American officials in foreign affairs, security and public diplomacy must head to Washington and our pro-China officials in the field must go to Beijing and work on this resolution.
In ancient Greece, King Pyrrhus of Epirus defeated the Romans after suffering irrevocable casualties amounting to defeat. In the war between the two Koreas, we will win and unification will come. But that would only be a Pyrrhic victory.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jul. 1, Page 31
*The author is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.