The US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system deployed in the Republic of Korea, has been put on combat duty, said Colonel Rob Manning, the US Forces Korea spokesperson.
“US Forces Korea confirms the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system is operational and has the ability to intercept North Korean missiles and defend the Republic of Korea,” Manning has been quoted by the world media.
Chinese authorities called for immediately stopping the deployment of THAAD in South Korea, because they believe that the system is directed, in particular, against the PRC.
“China’s position on the THAAD issue has not changed. We oppose the deployment of the US missile system to South Korea and call on all parties to immediately stop this process. We are ready to take necessary measures to protect our interests,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Geng Shuang.
According to South Korean media, the THAAD battery has from four to nine moving caterpillar tracks. Each of them is designed for eight interceptor missiles. However, the official data has not yet been published. The battery will also be equipped with a TPY-2 TM anti-missile radar. The range of such interceptors is reportedly not more than 200 km.
Commenting on the difficult situation in the region, Denny Roy, Senior Fellow, East-West Center, explained that the US position is that THAAD can help protect South Korea from a potential North Korean missile attack.
“In my view, the actions of North Korea amply justify the deployment of THAAD and the Chinese objection is invalid.Even if it was true that, as the Chinese allege, the US military plans to use THAAD to surveil China, the THAAD system would have an insignificant impact on China’s security. The United States can already detect Chinese missile launches by other means, and in any case China has a secure second-strike capability.It is absurd for China to complain about THAAD when China helped to bring about the THAAD issue by enabling bellicose North Korean behavior—both by helping North Korea get nuclear weapons, and more recently by protecting North Korea against the impact of economic sanctions. Moreover, China’s real objection to THAAD is that China does not want to see the United States deepen its alliances in Asia by tying Japan and South Korea into a US-led anti-missile defense system, so the THAAD issue is a surrogate for Chinese fears of an ‘Asian NATO’,” he told PenzaNews.
Answering the question about potential difficulties around the THAAD after the change of South Korean leadership, the expert suggested that the situation will not change fundamentally.
According to Roy, while Moon Jae-In is a known opponent of THAAD, “he seems to realize that once THAAD is deployed, it will be difficult to remove it. Moon also said a sixth North Korean nuclear test would make THAAD inevitable. So THAAD is likely to stay, even if controversially.”
According to Roy, THAAD has increased tensions in the region because China has chosen to make it a major issue.
“In any case, US-China relations appear good at the moment despite THAAD, demonstrating that this is a discretionary issue for China,” he added.
Meanwhile, Bonnie Glaser, former consultant for US Departments of Defense and State, Senior Adviser for Asia, Director, China Power Project, Center for Strategic and International Studies, expressed confidence that the deployment of the US anti-missile system in South Korea is a necessary step.
“THAAD is necessary to defend US assets in South Korea because North Korea is increasingly provocative and unpredictable. It could engage in nuclear blackmail,” the expert explained.
According to her, the American anti-missile system in South Korea should not be of concern to other countries, in particular, Russia and China.
“The effect on the deterrents of Russia and China is minimal,” former consultant for US Departments of State stressed.
In turn, Grant Newsham, Senior Research Fellow at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies in Tokyo, with experience as a US Diplomat and US Marine Officer, shared the opinion of THAAD’s extremely insignificant influence on “large and sophisticated PRC and Russian nuclear arsenals.”
“THAAD is a single weapons system with relatively limited capabilities for what it can defend against. The Chinese and Russians have very good scientists and they know THAAD’s limitations. It is hard to believe that the PRC and Russian missile and nuclear capabilities are so tiny and useless that THAAD poses a threat to them,” the expert said.
In his opinion, East Asia is more unsettled today than it has been for decades.
“North Korea is the immediate problem and unless prevented from doing so, it will within a matter of years have the capability to launch nuclear armed missiles against the United States – and other US allies such as Japan, South Korea, and even Australia,” Grant Newsham said and added that the effects of the potential conflict will be felt globally.
From his point of view, THAAD is essential for the ROK to defend itself from North Korean missile attacks.
“A government’s obligation is to defend its citizens. If the ROK government did not do everything possible to protect South Korean territory and citizens it would be criminally responsible for not doing its duty,” the analyst explained.
According to him, the THAAD system was introduced lawfully and in accordance with South Korean law.
“The bigger concern – well beyond THAAD – is the possibility the new South Korean administration might reinstitute the failed ‘Sunshine Policy’ with North Korea. This would be huge benefit for the Kim regime, but would also shake the US-ROK alliance. It will be very interesting to see how this plays out. My guess is that the US-ROK alliance will survive,” Grant Newsham said.
In his opinion,the objections of the Chinese side in this matter are inappropriate.
“North Korea has a steadily developing missile and nuclear capability that threatens South Korea – and Japan as well. It also threatens the PRC just as much, but China appears to be unconcerned about a nuclear armed North Korea as long as it seems to only be threatening ROK, Japan, and the United States. This is short-sighted cynicism at its worst,” the expert said.
Meanwhile, according to him, Donald Trump’s comment that South Korea will pay for THAAD shouldn’t be taken too seriously.
“[Donald] Trump sometimes says things without great introspection beforehand, but that’s just his style. National Security Advisor, HR Herbert McMaster, did a good job of clarifying things – or at least watering down what Mr. Trump said. Still, the damage – such as it was – had already been done. Biggest effect is on the upcoming ROK presidential election, though probably not a decisive effect,” former US Diplomat said.
Meanwhile, Wendell Minnick, Senior Asia Correspondent, Shephard Media, also called THAADa great system for the area.
“It offers not just high altitude, but low and medium altitude defense against missiles. For this reason, the Chinese are clearly unhappy because some of their ballistic missiles fall within range of planned strikes on US and Japanese military target,” he explained.
It’s a very simple system to assemble and is transportable, making it a pragmatic system against a new threat or new war zone, he said.
“China is never happy about ballistic missile defense systems, especially those being set up in Taiwan, that make it harder for China to effectively use its massive conventional ballistic missile arsenal. China’s short-range ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan now number around 1,300. This does not include the medium range DF-21 capable of knocking out aircraft carriers,” the analyst said.
Meanwhile, in his opinion, there is some irony in China’s complaints.
“China has an arrow and prepared to unleash it on you. You buy a shield and China calls it unfair. The THAAD system is not an offensive missile system. It is designed to shoot down missiles coming down on your neighborhood. If your neighbor has a vicious dog scaring your children, you have the right to build a fence around your property,” Wendell Minnick explained.
In turn, Xu Jin, Research Fellow at Institute of World Economics and Politics of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, also noted that the situation of Korean Peninsula is deteriorating.
“North Korea’s missile launching and its nuclear program have made many troubles in this area. Based the perception of threat from the north, ROC decided to deploy the THAAD system. I personally understand ROC’s decision,” the Chinese expert said.
Although there exists some uncertainty, the new president of South Korea will not cancel the deployment, he said.
“I don’t think aggression is a suitable term to describe North Korea’sbehavior because it does not attack the ROC or the US. But its future behaviors definitely will lead to greater escalation of tension,” Xu Jin added.
According to him, we cannot exclude the possibility of armed conflict between the hostile parties.
“The Trump Administration faces a dilemma that if it retreats from military operations, it will tell the whole world US government is a paper tiger. But if it decides to take military operations, it means an armed conflict between two nuclear powers which is very dangerous,” the Chinese analyst concluded.
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