Thaad needs a pushThe first meeting between U.S. and South Korean defense ministers since the launch of the Donald Trump administration was held at the Ministry of National Defense in Seoul. In the meeting with South Korea’s Defense Minister Han Min-koo, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis, a former Marine general on a two-day trip to Seoul, reconfirmed a U.S pledge to “defeat North Korean nuclear attacks with overwhelming force.”
In the meeting, both ministers discussed detailed ways to strengthen the decades-old alliance and implement extended deterrence against the North’s nuclear and missile threats. They also put on the table such contentious issues as the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) antimissile system and military cooperation among Seoul, Washington and Tokyo. The extended deterrence includes a preemptive strike on the North’s nuclear weapons through the Thaad battery, precision strike weapons and other U.S. nuclear assets.
According to the Ministry of National Defense, both sides mostly focused on the Thaad deployment — a hot potato issue in South Korea — in consideration of the possibility of the North making a new round of provocations on the pretext of defending itself from the Korea-U.S. annual Key Resolve and Foal Eagle military exercises slated for March. After taking such a danger into account, both ministers reaffirmed an earlier plan to deploy a Thaad battery within this year as scheduled.
But obstacles remain over the deployment, as seen in the ongoing weekly demonstrations at Gwanghwamun Square, central Seoul, in protest of the deployment. Some presidential contenders are also critical of the deployment. There’s another hurdle too. Even after Lotte Group, South Korea’s fifth largest conglomerate, held a meeting of board members on Friday, they stopped short of approving a plan to offer its golf course in Seongju, North Gyeongsang, in exchange for a plot of land in Namyangju, Gyeonggi, currently owned by the military. As the controversy heats up, Russian Ambassador to Seoul Alexander Timonin announced that the Thaad deployment will pose a security threat to Russia.
But Thaad is necessary to safeguard our people and properties as well as the lives of U.S. forces here from incoming nuclear missiles.
Therefore, our government must once again convince the public of the need for the deployment, while accelerating efforts to reassure Beijing and Moscow about the defensive purpose of Thaad. We also urge Lotte to conclude the land swap deal as soon as possible.
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 4, Page 30