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With THAAD, US and South Korea Are Playing with Fire

Oct 19 , 2016
  • Yin Chengde

    Research Fellow, China Foundation for International Studies
The South Korean government, in defiance of strong opposition at home and abroad, announced on Sept 30 the choice of a private golf course in Seongju as the new site for the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile-defense system. The US military also said it would speed up the THAAD deployment, describing it as “done deal”. The deployment decision by the US and South Korea would further escalate the tensions on the Korean Peninsula and would likely trigger confrontations between major counties. The deployment move is a vicious plan that would endanger peace and stability on the peninsula and Northeast Asia region.
Washington and Seoul repeatedly have argued that the deployment of the THAAD system is to deter the “serious threat” from North Korean nuclear weapons and missiles. In fact, the so-called “threat from North Korea” is a kind of cooked-up topic. It should not be a difficult question to answer: Who is the threat -- the US and South Korea to North Korea, or vice versa? In terms of economic power, North Korea is certainly of no match to South Korea. As far as military power is concerned, the US and South Korea are in a military alliance, and with Japan as a supplement, their combined military power is overwhelmingly superior to that of North Korea. They also stick to the policy of hostility towards North Korea, with an ultimate goal of regime change. Under such circumstances, it is self-evident who represents the threat.
North Korea’s pursuit for nuclear weapons is a wrong move, but in some sense, it was the US that has driven North Korea onto the road of nuclear weapon development. North Korea’s move to possess nuclear weapons and claims of “pre-emptive” strike to eliminate the enemies are, in essence, a kind of bluffing and defensive postures of the underdog. If this could be considered a threat to South Korea and US military stationed in South Korea, it’s more or less psychological, and North Korea’s claim of destroying the enemies is nothing but blowing hot air. North Korea, as the weaker side, could not possibly “invade the South” in a pre-emptive way, because it knows that doing so will spell its own destruction. 
The US and South Korea defended their decision on the THAAD deployment decision time and again, claiming it only targets at North Korea, not China or Russia. This is a trick they played to fool the others and the world. The radar detection distance of the THAAD system could easily reach 2,000 kilometers, its interception altitude ranges between 40 kilometers within and 150 kilometers outside the atmosphere. The capabilities and functions of the THAAD system mean that it is mainly to track and intercept medium- and long-range ballistic missiles, and poses real and direct threat to the strategic weapon systems in China’s hinterlands and Russia’s Far East regions. On the contrary, the THAAD has little or no effect in intercepting North Korea’s short-range missiles. So the real motives of the US and South Korea for the THAAD deployment are self-evident: It aims at China and Russia.  
The US has been considering China and Russia as major obstacles to its drive for global hegemony, and therefore has regarded China and Russia as its strategic rivals and major containment targets. The US’ main method is to develop the global anti-missile systems in an attempt to mitigate the threat of missiles from China and Russia, ultimately by achieving its goal of containing China and Russia. By using deterrence against missile threats from Iran and North Korean as excuses, the US deployed and is to deploy advanced anti-missile systems in Eastern Europe and South Korea. Through deployment of the advanced systems at the doorsteps of Russia and China, it is meant to perform close-in tracking of the Chinese and Russian strategic nuclear power, and to intercept when necessary in an attempt to guarantee US absolute strategic superiority over China and Russia. Ultimately, it would want to coerce China and Russia to yield to its pressure and clear the last hurdles on its way to dominate the world. The US moves in Eastern Europe and South Korea not only undermine the regional and global strategic power balance and the foundation of world peace and stability, but also attempt to sacrifice the national security of China and Russia. This is a well-choreographed plan of the US, but it may never succeed.
As far as the THAAD deployment is concerned, South Korea played a disgraceful role. South Korea, in the name of “defending its national security and the safety of its citizens”, voluntarily agreed to the US deployment of the THAAD system in the country. This is a grave error. Under dual protection of the powerful US conventional and strategic weapons, the national security of South Korea is not at risk. Under the influence of a Cold War mentality, however, it still invites the US to deploy the THAAD system on its soil, volunteers to jump on the chariot of the US Asia-Pacific strategy, and acts to be a pawn in the US strategy in containing China and Russia. Furthermore, the South Korean government also played tough on the THAAD deployment. South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-goo said that if Chinese or Russian missiles are fired at the THAAD deployment sites, South Korea would use the US anti-missile systems to shoot down the incoming Russian or Chinese missiles, sending signals of readiness for confrontation with China and Russia. When South Korea acts as a cat’s paw for the US, it will inevitably get hurt, and when South Korea plays the role of a surrogate for the US in containing China and Russia, it is an invitation to self-destruction – a road to disaster and certainly not a wise move.
China and Russia, in the face of undisguised strategic challenges from the US and South Korea, also showed their uncompromising and firm attitude in defending their national strategic security interests. They not only made solemn responses to the challenges, but also vowed to take necessary joint actions within the framework of their comprehensive strategic partnership.
The confrontation regarding the deployment of the THAAD system might lead to unbearable consequences if the situation gets worse. At present, there is still room for maneuvering to defuse the confrontation, which demands the US and South Korea abandon their THAAD deployment plan. Then, the confrontational situation would be eased, and so will the tense situation in Northeast Asia. For all parties involved, this should be the most desirable solution.
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