US Begins Deployment Of Controversial THAAD Anti-Missile System To South Korea
Well that escalated quickly. Just a day after North Korea’s test firing of 4 missiles towards US bases in Japan, and hours after North Korea warned the world was “on the brink of nuclear war” due to US-South Korea “maneuvers,” CNN reports the first pieces of the controversial US-built missile defense system (designed to mitigate the threat of North Korean missiles) arrived at the Osan Air Base in South Korea Monday night, according to the US military.
The decision in January to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile system, had angered both Russian and Chinese officials:
“We think the US-South Korean decision to deploy the THAAD missile defense system has seriously threatened China’s security interest. For the region, it will also break the strategic balance. So it’s completely understandable to see countries in the region firmly oppose this decision,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said. “China and other countries have to address our own legitimate security concerns and take necessary measures to safeguard our security interest.”
“Deployment of US missile defense systems in South Korea clearly goes beyond the tasks of deterring ‘the North Korean threat,’” Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said in October, according to Russian state-run Tass news agency.
And now – dramatically faster than expected – the deployment has begun.
Some equipments including 2 launch pads for U.S. missile defense system known as Thaad arrived in South Korea on Monday and will continue to be brought in, Yonhap News says, citing unidentified South Korean military official.
“Continued provocative actions by North Korea, to include yesterday’s launch of multiple missiles, only confirm the prudence of our alliance decision last year to deploy THAAD to South Korea,” Adm. Harry Harris, commander, US Pacific Command, said in a news release.
US Secretary of Defense James Mattis and South Korean Defense Secretary Han Min-koo spoke over the phone last week and agreed that THAAD should be deployed “ASAP.”
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer signaled the deployment Monday when he told reporters that the United States is “taking steps to enhance our ability to defend against North Korea’s ballistic missiles, such as through the deployment of a THAAD battery to South Korea.” U.S. defense officials confirmed to NBC News on Monday night that that meant delivery was already under way — not that the United States was simply restating its previous promises to send the system to South Korea sometime in the future.
The US and its allies in the region, notably South Korea and Japan, tend to focus on THAAD’s defensive nature. They tout its value as a system to prevent a missile from hitting a target and killing people.
“This is purely a defensive measure that the alliance must take in light of the serious threat posed by North Korean missiles,” Chris Bush, a spokesman for the US Forces in Korea said.
But Beijing and Moscow don’t see it that way.
“We do not have any doubts that US, with support of their allies, will continue to build up the potential of the Asia Pacific segment of their global missile system, which will inevitably lead to disruption of established strategic balances both in the Asia Pacific and beyond.”
Interestingly, it’s not just Russian and Chinese officials that are against the US deployment of THAAD; South Korean presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung and mayor of Seongnam City commented:
“We have to realize clearly that THAAD cannot stop the nuclear missiles coming from the DPRK. How can the 48 missiles of THAAD stop the over 1,000 missiles from the DPRK? The north of Chungcheongbuk-do and the capital area jointly account for more than half of our population and most of our territory. THAAD cannot even cover these areas, but merely increases the regional military tensions. To be honest, deploying THAAD will hurt both us and China. No one will gain anything from it. The starting point of THAAD is wrong, so we have to reconsider it completely. Otherwise, our future will be gloomy, chaotic and insecure.”
Clearly the rush to get THAAD deployed counters any pre-emptive rejection by Lee. We are sure China’s response will be swift at this apparent ‘retaliation’ by the US.
As Strategic Culture’s Nan Li previously noted, China is opposed to THAAD deployment for several reasons.
First, Chinese analysts believe that THAAD in South Korea is intended to intercept missiles launched, not from North Korea, but from China and Russia. THAAD has an operational range of 200 kilometers (km) and is designed to intercept missiles at altitudes between 40 and 180 km. Such altitudes, according to analysts from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), match the “terminal phase” of the intermediate, long-range and even intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), or those with ranges exceeding 3,500 km. PLA analysts also claim that they match the “mid-course phase” of medium-range missiles, or those with ranges between 1,000 and 3,500 km, including China’s DF-21 and DF-26 missiles. Because the direct threats to South Korea — including the Seoul area, where 40 percent of the South Korean population resides — are North Korea’s long-range artilleries and short-range ballistic missiles, THAAD, they believe, is clearly a mismatch against such threats.
Chinese analysts are particularly concerned about THAAD’s X-band radar. Even though it would be configured as a fire-control radar with a detection range of 600 km, it perhaps could be reconfigured as an early-warning radar, which allows a detection range exceeding 2,000 km. Such a range suggests that China’s missile activities on land and at sea in northern and eastern China may be mostly exposed. The radar allegedly can see the critical processes where warheads and decoys are released during China’s strategic missile tests. In times of war, it can undermine the reliability of China’s strategic deterrent because in comparison with Alaska-based radars, it is believed to be capable of acquiring more than ten minutes of early warning time against China’s strategic ballistic missiles. It can also differentiate real warheads from decoys. If integrated into the U.S. national missile defense network, this radar allegedly can increase the odds of success in intercepting Chinese missiles even at their “boost phase,” reducing further the reliability of China’s already small strategic deterrent and tilting the strategic balance in favor of the United States.
Moreover, Chinese analysts believe that the Korean Peninsula has historically been a nearby sphere critical to China’s security. They worry that by deploying THAAD, South Korea could share data with the United States and Japan on air traffic control, air defense, and early warning. This may help to integrate South Korea-based systems with U.S. and Japanese sensors and sea-based Aegis systems, with the goal of forming a trilateral strategic alliance to contain China at China’s door steps. Chinese analysts believe that North Korean nuclear tests were only an excuse used by the United States to deploy THAAD, the real U.S. intention being to drive a wedge between South Korea and China at a time when China-South Korea relations were improving substantially, as reflected in the countries’ booming bilateral trade and Park Geun-hye’s attendance at the Victory Day Parade in Beijing in September 2015. THAAD deployment would bring the United States and South Korea closer at the expense of China’s security. This could help the United States to stabilize U.S.-South Korea relations and prevent the possible loss of the U.S. military foothold on the Korean Peninsula.
Chinese analysts have proposed a wide range of countermeasures to retaliate against the THAAD deployment. They argue that to restore regional “strategic balance,” China should cooperate with Russia in developing strategic offensive weapons, particularly in developing “penetration” technologies that can defeat missile defense. Other proposed countermeasures include concealment and redeployment of China’s strategic capabilities to reduce their exposure to the THAAD radar, and accelerated development of China’s own missile defense systems. Other analysts argue for economic sanctions.