On July 8, 2016, heedless of China’s and Russia’s strong opposition, the ROK and the US militaries issued a joint statement to announce the decision to deploy the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in ROK. Five days later, the ROK Ministry of National Defense held news conference in Seoul to announce that the ROK and the US both decided to deploy a THAAD system at the Seongsan-ri region of Seongju County, Kyongsang Pukdo, Southeast of the ROK. Why do the ROK and the US persist in deploying THAAD in ROK despite China’s and Russia’s persistent opposition? Is it necessary to deploy THAAD in ROK? Can a THAAD system deter the DPRK from developing nuclear weapons? Let’s see how powerful DPRK’s missiles are and what a THAAD system can do there.
How Powerful Are DPRK Missiles?
According to the Military Balance 2016, the DPRK Army has 6+ Hwasong-13 (KN-08, reported operational), ԑ10 Nodong (ԑ90+ msl), some Musudan and KN-02, 30+ Scud-B/Scud-C (ԑ200+msl), 24 Frog-3/5/7. The DPRK Navy has HY-1 and KN-01. The DPRK Air Force has Kh-23, Kh-25, R-3, R-60, R-37, PL-5, PL-7, R-23/24, and R-27R/ER. The Army’s missiles are reportedly deployed in three areas: forward, central and rear areas (see the sketch map). From the map we can see that DPRK could employ long-range missiles to attack the US military base at Guam, medium-range missiles to attack the US military stationed in Japan and short-range missiles to attack the ROK. Considering that the types, numbers and capabilities of the DPRK’s short-range missiles are rather limited and the US military has already deployed 30-44 Patriot PAC-3 missile systems in the ROK, it is difficult for the DPRK’s short-range missiles to pose a very grave threat to the ROK. The real, realistic and grave threats to the ROK are the DPRK Army and its 21,100 pieces of artillery, most of which are deployed along the 38°Line and can strike the Seoul area directly.
What Can THAAD Do?
A THAAD battery consists of nine launcher vehicles, each equipped with eight missiles, with two mobile tactical operations centers and an X-Band radar. A THAAD missile weighs 900kg with a length of 6.17m and a diameter of 34cm; it has an operational range of 30-200 km and an altitude range of 15-150 km. Its X-Band radar (AN/TPY-2) can detect and track a conventional ballistic missile within 4000km and a signal-reduced ballistic missile within 2000km. THAAD is designed for high-altitude intercept in a missile’s terminal phase, meaning that it is optimized mostly to defend against medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles but is of little or no use against the short- and tactical-range ballistic missiles most likely to be employed against the ROK. Besides, THAAD can do nothing to deal with the real and realistic threats posed by the DPRK’s artillery. Therefore the deployment of THAAD in the ROK is mainly symbolic and can do little to improve the ROK’s security environment.
The ROK Will Become the Biggest Loser of THAAD
Although the deployment of THAAD in the ROK can inflict greater military pressure upon the DPRK and reduce its likelihood to take risky actions, increase the ROK’s sense of security and self-confidence, strengthen the US-ROK military alliance and enhance its missile-defense capabilities, it will cause the ROK to lose much more than what it can get. First, it will provoke the DPRK to accelerate its development of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, which will pose a great threat to the ROK’s security. Second, it will irritate and alienate the DPRK further and further, which will make national unification even more remote. Third, it will force the ROK to join the US-Japan missile defense system, which will impair the ROK’s military initiative. Fourth, it will irritate ROK-China and ROK-Russia relations, which might result in political and economic retaliations from both China and Russia and does not accord with the ROK’s national interests. Last but not the least, it will split the ROK people because there have been large protests against the deployment of THAAD throughout the ROK since the day of the decision, which will undermine the national unity, national economic development and national comprehensive power of the ROK. Therefore if THAAD is finally deployed in ROK, the ROK will become the biggest loser.
The US Will Become the Biggest Winner of THAAD
The benefits of THAAD in ROK are clearer for the US. As recently as a few years ago, the US began to sell the idea to deploy THAAD in the ROK. The benefits to Washington are as follows: Enhance military presence in the Asia-Pacific region as the US rebalancing strategy requires; consolidate the US-ROK military alliance so as to have a better control of military initiative in the Korean Peninsula; push the bilateral alliance into a multilateral alliance by creating a US-Japan-ROK missile defense system; establish a multi-tier missile system of low, medium and high altitudes together with THAAD, Aegis and Patriot missile systems in Northeast Asia; enhance the US strategic deterrence against China and Russia; facilitate arms trade to please armament corporations and promote the development of the US economy; consolidate its image as an counter-proliferation leader by being firm with the DPRK. However, the US will still suffer some loses, which may include: reducing Sino-American and Russian-American strategic trust, which will make future international cooperation more difficult; breaking the strategic balance in Northeast Asia; which will be detrimental to regional peace and stability; giving rise to a regional arms race or even a new cold war, which will be adverse to peace, stability and development of the world.
The DPRK Will Also Become a Winner of THAAD
THAAD in ROK will give the DPRK a lot of military pressure but will not make much difference because the DPRK has been under great military pressure from ROK and the US for a long time. Contrary to what the ROK and the US might expect, the DPRK will actually benefit from the deployment of THAAD. First, the DPRK will hasten its development of nuclear weapons and missiles under the excuse that its security is further threatened by THAAD. Second, THAAD will become a catalyst to strengthen the DPRK’s military-firstism politics and its war preparation. Third, the DPRK will succeed in driving a wedge between China and the ROK by making use of the THAAD deployment. Fourth, the DPRK will succeed in undermining the cooperation among China, the US, ROK and Russia if THAAD is deployed. Fifth, Kim Jong-un will consolidate his power by emphasizing the threat from THAAD and the ROK-US alliance. In this sense, the DPRK will also become a winner of THAAD.
China and Russia Will Strengthen Strategic Cooperation
THAAD in the ROK will endanger the national security interests of China and Russia. The great detection and tracking distance and high-target identification capability of a THAAD system will make the military activities and missile launching facilities within China and Russia exposed to the US and the ROK. If the X-Band radar in the ROK were networked with the two X-Band radars in Japan, its capability will be greatly enhanced, which would pose even greater challenges to China’s and Russia’s national security. Besides, THAAD in the ROK will greatly reduce Chinese and Russian strategic deterrence to the US. In face of the new security threat posed by THAAD, China and Russia could do nothing but strengthen their strategic cooperation in dealing with common security challenges.
It’s Never Too Late to Mend
THAAD’s threat to the peace and stability in Northeast Asia is as plain as the nose on your face.
Seoul should fully understand the consequences of THAAD in the ROK, alter the decision to deploy THAAD and cooperate with countries concerned in an effort to force the DPRK to abandon its nuclear project and mitigate the tense situation in the Korean Peninsula. It is much easier to change a decision than to change a reality.
The US should learn some lessons from the Cuba missile crisis and NATO’s eastward expansion, understand and respect other countries’ security concerns, and give up its attempt to deploy THAAD in the ROK so as to avoid a New Cold War.
The DPRK should carry out all resolutions made by the UN Security Council, give up its ambition to get nuclear weapons, and seek better ways to ensure its national security and improve its economic situation. Perhaps Iran is a good example to follow.
China and Russia should further consolidate their strategic cooperation and coordination in dealing with international affairs, try to confront common security challenges together and adopt positive and concrete measures to promote peace, stability and development in Northeast Asia and the world.