Who Does THAAD Protect? South Koreans? No! US Bases? Yes!
July 20, 2016
Oh Young-jin / Korea Times
The destabilizing introduction of a THAAD anti-missile array in South Korea has been justified as necessary for the "defense" of the people of South Korea. In fact, it puts civilians at risk and mainly serves to protect US troops in the country. For the thousands of North Korean missiles that will rain down from the sky when, God forbid, the North invades, one THAAD unit is never enough. But if it is to protect one or two key US military installations, it would prove to be effective.
(July 19, 20160 -- On July 8, hours after the announcement of the deployment of an advanced US missile interceptor, Defense Minister Han Min-koo called editors and editorial writers in for a briefing.
I dramatized a situation -- there is only one Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile left against two incoming North Korean missiles -- one toward the US military in Pyeongtaek and the other homing in on downtown Seoul. "Which target would be a priority?" I asked Minister Han.
Han first talked about the ROK-US joint operation at the US air base in Osan to detect and coordinate against any unusual North Korean activities. Then, he moved on to one THAAD unit -- six launchers with 48-plus projectiles and a radar system -- not being enough to cover the entire nation. He denied any plan to deploy a second unit to cover the entire country.
Then, he disclosed that Korea won't pay a dime for the hardware. All Korea chips in is the real estate where the unit is to be located -- Seongju, North Gyeongsang Province. By then, it was clear that the minister didn't want to give me a straight answer.
As I shook hands with him after the meeting, he said, "Always difficult questions!"
I didn't intend to throw him a curve ball, but on my way back to the office I went over the way he obfuscated. This was my conclusion.
It was a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't situation. If he said that the last remaining THAAD missile would be used to eliminate the one heading for the US military, it would be an honest answer. But the public backlash would be enormous.
He would lie if he said that it would be used for Seoul. On a broader scale, the ultimate purpose of war -- invasion or counter-invasion -- is winning it.
It is pivotal to retaining power to make a retaliatory offensive after the enemy's first strike. This means prioritizing military assets over civilian lives.
Let's apply this rule to the Korean theater.
The Seoul metropolitan areas, the nation's population center, are already targeted by thousands of pieces of North Korean artillery -- short-range missiles and long-range field guns. In other words, the North would start its invasion by bombarding Seoul in an attempt to inflict as much collateral damage, the purpose being to destroy the will to fight back -- damaging the chain of command and wreaking havoc on the infrastructure, among other things.
In this chaotic situation, it would be crucial for the military to survive the first blow and make a counteroffensive. That is where the THAAD unit is called for.
For the thousands of North Korean missiles that will rain down from the sky when, God forbid, the North invades, one THAAD unit is never enough. But if it is to protect one or two key US military installations, it would prove to be effective.
So it would be safely inferred that the THAAD unit is not for the protection of civilians but of the military and, more precisely, the US military.
This also confirms the government's standard response before the THAAD issue became a hot-button issue when asked about its deployment. Ministry officials would say that it was the affair of the US military so they didn't have anything to say.
So it would be reasonable for one to say that the THAAD deployment is being implemented at the request of the US for the sake of its troops. On the flip side, the government should take the blame for misleading the public that THAAD is for the people's protection or letting this myth spread. It remains to be seen what caused the public's perception that THAAD is the cure-all for the North's missile threat.
One benefit of relative importance is that this misbegotten belief about the mighty THAAD helps ally the people's sense of hopelessness -- being naked to the North's weapons of mass destruction such as nuclear weapons and missiles and not doing anything to retaliate against its wanton behavior.
It is worth remembering President Park Geun-hye first raising the issue of the controversial THAAD deployment after the North's recent provocations -- the fourth nuclear test and a long-range missile test -- and China didn't respond to her call of distress.
Then, the nation is paying through the nose for its decision to accommodate the US deployment request.
Above all, it is triggering a major internal ideological struggle and violent protests by residents of Seongju, North Gyeongsang Province, where the THAAD unit is to be located. The political circles are now jockeying for an initiative, checking the wind of public opinion, while Seongju residents are trying to block the deployment.
The situation is threatening a repeat of the mad cow mayhem after the resumption of US beef imports by the Lee Myung-bak government in 2008.
Plus, its carefully-built relationship with China, Korea's largest trading partner, is now in tatters as Beijing has vehemently protested, raising calls for retaliation against Korea. Korea's move has augmented the US position in its emerging battle royal for the hegemony of East Asia.
Korea has made a very difficult choice for the US Call it an ally's duty if you will, but it is inevitable to ask what benefit Korea will receive in return. Would Minister Han stall on that answer as he did in the July 1 briefing?
Oh Young-jin is The Korea Times' chief editorial writer. He can be contacted at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
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