Seung Min Park
November 18, 2016
THAAD for South Korea
Recently, the relationship between South Korea and China has been unstable because South Korea decided to deploy THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense), a defense system that provides countries with the critical capability to defend against short and medium ranged ballistic missiles. Because North Korea had intimidated South Korea with their nuclear experiment and missile, South Korea decided to protect itself from the deployment of THAAD. This potential installment had already caused tensions among East Asia countries, especially between China and Korea. By stating that South Korea should reconsider its decision, China disagreed with THAAD deployment. Nevertheless, South Korea should hold on to its plan of THAAD for the sake of its national security in spite of the domestic and international pressure it had been receiving so far.
China suspects that the installation of THAAD is a strategic maneuver of US in East Asia and will function as surveillance toward China, while South Korea holds a completely different opinion (Hassan). South Korea decided to install this new defense system because North Korea had been intimidating South Korea with nuclear and missile threats more often now than it did before (U.S. Department of Defense). Nonetheless, some people have been suspecting South Korea president’s true intent on THAAD deployment. Lately, it was exposed that Choi, a president’s confidante, had involved in government administration and received bribery from Lockheed Martin, the manufacture of THAAD. Others insist that people need to support THAAD deployment because the main purpose for the installation hasn’t been changed by the scandal (Shim); in other words, South Korea still need THAAD, because that the protection system defending North Korea’s threats is not associated with whomever gets advantages from the deployment of THAAD contract.
Because South Korea decided to install THAAD to protect the integrity of its sovereignty, it should hold on to its decision because country’s sovereignty should be prior to other countries voices. A country’s first concern should be its national security even though it is helpful for the country to listen to neighbor countries voice. It’s important to understand that this THAAD deployment is a national security problem, not an act of political display. South Korea decided to deploy THAAD because it desperately needed a defensive weapon to protect itself from North Korea’s growing military threats. In fact, THAAD’s ability is much better than other defensive weapon system that South Korea ever owned. For example, THAAD’s maximum range and altitude, which is 150 Km and 200 Km, is longer than L-SAM, which is one of weapons with 60 and 150Km of range and altitude that South Korea is developing (Kligner). Keeping this in mind, the deployment of THAAD is the best available alternative defensive system to accomplish South Korea’s national defensive purpose. Moreover, the sole defensive purpose of THAAD on a South Korea standpoint can be seen from many reports. For example, an article from CNN reported, “Park Geun-hye said Monday that North Korea’s threats are “life-threatening issues” against the future and life of Korean people. ‘There is no reason for us to use THAAD against or intrude security interests of a third party country besides North Korea,’ she added” (Kwon and Griffiths). Though President Park claimed that South Korea’s decision was only for protecting itself from North Korea, China still urged South Korea to eschew its decision about THAAD. In May 2014, Xinhua News Agency, a state-run newspaper, threatened and pressured that “South Korea will sacrifice its fast-developing relations with China if it should be seduced into the defense network, ignoring the protests of the largest economy in Asia” (Kim). South Korea is clearly in a difficult situation in term of its diplomatic relationship with surrounding countries. Though the installation of THAAD is controversial, it should be understood that a country’s top priority is its national security and the welfare for its people.
South Korea should keep focusing on THAAD deployment, given that there is no alternative reliable avenue but THAAD that satisfies South Korea’s desire of having an effective military protection from North Korea. Theoretically, South Korea had two self-protection approaches against North Korea’s intimidations: one is having a nuclear weapon like North Korea had; the other one is building a relationship with China, a country that can be a watcher or mediator to North Korea. Nonetheless, the solutions are unrealistic. Because South Korea has been a well known member of NPT (Non-Poliferation Treaty) (Jun) and President Park lately vowed denuclearization of Korean Peninsula: Yonhap reported that “South Korean President Park Geun-hye and her Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping vowed Thursday to make the Korean Peninsula nuclear weapons-free as they warned North Korea against detonating a nuclear bomb” (Yonhap). Even if South Korea established a relationship with China, North Korea can behave dogmatically because North Korea always pretends to be a friend with Chia; Chosun Ilbo reported that Kim Jong-un in 2013 ordered to hang a sign with quote from his grand father that says “China is a ‘turncoat and our enemy’”(Chosunilbo). Consequently, the only option that South Korea can utilize to protect its own nation is by adopting another whole new approach, a THAAD deployment. Unlike other two options, THAAD comes from South Korea’s biggest ally, US; and it is more reasonable for South Korea to deploy this system rather than developing a nuclear weapon for the sake of its national security. The more realistic the defensive system is, the better protection effect it will bring to a nation. Countries, in general, prefer better protection in term of their national security. The potential enhanced military capacity and the existence of North Korea’s threat both made THAAD the most ideal plan for the current South Korea to adopt.
Although THAAD deployment might work as a better defensive system, some people concern about the possibility that it could dramatically intensify the relationships among the East Asia countries. Nonetheless, if South Korea can have an open dialogue with other East Asia countries while pushing the agenda for THAAD deployment, there would be less tension and fewer potential diplomatic problems for countries in the area. For example, THAAD deployment might aggravate the relationship between North Korea and South Korea. It might make North Korea to resent South Korea more and potentially bring military retaliation against South Korea. In addition, other major players in the area, such as China, Russia and Japan, will also experience tension among each other. Even though the post cold war world had transformed into a multi-polar system, the old rivalry between capitalism and socialism had never ceased. This rival had extended to the allies of Soviet Union and U.S. The power struggle in East Asia area involved this rising ideology rivals. With Japan and South Korea representing U.S, and North Korea, China and Russia representing communism, any intensified tension that happens on Korea Peninsula will potentially lead to a world-wide power struggle and goes beyond regional conflict. Therefore, South Korea should look for a more diplomatic approach to discuss this matter with China, while persisting on its THAAD plan. This is the most applicable approach to minimize the potential damage THAAD will bring to South Korea’s diplomatic relationship with other East Asia countries, and to the current multipolar system while also ensuring national security, which is not optional.
In the end, it’s most important that South Korea, as a nation, needs to make its own decision. Because North Korea has been threatening the security of South Korea, South Korea decided to deploy THAAD out of the urgent and reasonable need for self-protection. Though the primary reason for South Korea to deploy THAAD was completely understandable, the installation of THAAD has not been a simple matter concerning only South Korea’s security. In plain terms, South Korea should seek for a solution that could mollify the potential tension that THAAD will bring while advancing the installation plan for THAAD.
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