Badly handled, badly neededThe Korean Defense Ministry announced it would station the Terminal High Altitude Area (Thaad) battery at a golf course run by Lotte Group far from residential neighborhoods in Seongju in the hopes of bringing in the U.S. antimissile system without triggering further controversy.
The site was changed from an air defense artillery base in Seongju County in North Gyeongsang Province as nearby villagers strongly protested out of concern for environmental and health risks possibly caused by the system’s radar system.
The issue became a political hot potato and rapidly fomented social division. Despite the justifiable need for stronger protection against elevated missile and nuclear threats from North Korea, the deployment was highly contested because authorities failed to make prior endeavors to persuade the public. The entire process has been sloppy.
Despite earlier flops, the defense ministry also was not able to generate support for its new choice. Tens of thousands of people of Gimcheon, a residential neighborhood closest to the golf club, have been protesting the plan.
Followers of Won Buddhism joined the protest because their temple is nearby the golf club. The authorities once again had been careless and negligent in persuading residents. Reporters covering defense affairs could not fully cover the announcement because it was made both at Seongju and Seoul.
But regardless of the procedural blunders, what is irreversible is that Thaad must be stationed. North Korea this year alone tested nuclear devices twice and carried out high-profile missile launches, including one fired from a submarine. North Korea is now feared to be capable of positioning missiles that could carry nuclear warheads within the next six or 12 months. The defense ministry must deploy the battery as soon as possible.
It must do its utmost to win understanding from residents and other protesters. It must make no mistakes in the process of purchasing the land and building necessary infrastructure.
At the same time, Seoul must continue to persuade Beijing, which has been vehemently against the prospect of having a powerful radar system nearby. It should send an envoy to Beijing to explain the need to defend against increasing nuclear weapons threats from North Korea.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 1, Page 26