Ending national divisionSouth Korea has decided to let the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) anti-missile system be deployed in Seongju, North Gyeongsang. The government explained that the location is off the range of North Korea’s multiple-rocket attacks and could help protect Busan Harbor and Gimhae Airport, where reinforcements of U.S. forces will arrive in times of contingency.
The military authorities also said that the site can minimize China’s resentment — as it is farther away from the West Coast — and help avoid controversies over harmful electromagnetic waves from the radar thanks to the highland areas. The government added that the location also does not need to go through an environmental impact assessment again as it uses our existing military base there.
But the government should persuade local residents if it wants to address national division. Needless to say, it was our government’s denials and dismissive attitudes toward the deployment that triggered — and fueled — unnecessary misunderstandings. Our military authorities insisted that the U.S. government did not demand the deployment or consult with Korea. But all of a sudden, the government reached the conclusion and announced the location for Thaad. That made citizens perplexed over the government’s sudden turnaround and sparked all kinds of speculations and wild rumors.
Local residents’ vehement opposition — when coupled with such massive and violent protests led by anti-U.S. civic groups as seen in the run-up to the construction of a joint military and civilian port in Jeju Island — could easily turn the situation out of control.
President Park Geun-hye and high government officials must convince the public of the necessity of the system before it is too late. In particular, the government must persuade local residents about its decision and, if necessary, bring them over to the U.S. Thaad battery in Guam to confirm no health risks from the deployment after consulting with the U.S. Forces. Seoul can also offer some practical benefits to the local people in return for the deployment.
Our lawmakers also must overcome national schisms with the spirit of co-governance after ending opposition for opposition’s sake.
Responsible politicians must not stick to a review of the deployment once the government announced the site. Internal division is more dangerous than the North’s nuclear and missile threats. Even as many as ten Thaad batteries can hardly safeguard a divided nation. A fatal lack of a united front could easily end up with a worst-case scenario in which we fail to convince China and Russia about the system, not to mention persuading Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons. We all have to see a bigger picture.
JoongAng Ilbo, July 14, Page 30