THAAD: Northeast Asia in Danger
The United States and South Korea have decided to deploy the Terminal High-altitude Area Defense system (THAAD), triggering a domino effect across Northeast Asia.
Both China and Russia have expressed their strong opposition even though the U.S. and South Korea claim that the system is meant to abate the nuclear threat from North Korea rather than a third party. THAAD’S super-sensitive “detection range,” however, is wide enough to threaten Beijing and its surrounding area, as well as strategic eastern regions of China. It will also threaten far eastern Russia. More importantly, China and Russia are concerned about the nature and emergence of “Asian NATO” considering the coupling of THAAD with the missile defense system deployed by Japan.
The DPRK military announced that it considers THAAD an act of war and vowed to forcefully remove it the moment the location and site are confirmed.
At present, the international community has reached some consensus that the DPRK nuclear crisis is a regional menace, a view shared by every other stakeholder in Northeast Asia. DPRK has been slapped with another round of unified sanctions. The risk and danger of the DPRK nuclear crisis can be kept under control through powerful sanctions from the international community. It is not beneficial or logical to deploy THAAD in response to the threat from North Korea.
Both China and Russia have made a reasonable judgment: THAAD has broken the strategic balance in Southeast Asia and brought uncertain danger to the situation in that region.
Considering the geopolitical games between the United States and China in the Asian-pacific region and between Russia and the United States in Europe, THAAD is clearly directional in the reorganization of American strategy: It has become a key piece of the American global strategy to restrain both Russia and China, using the danger from North Korea as an excuse.
The situation may seem simple from the South Korean perspective, as they try to protect their soil, but the move is extremely calculated by the acting party, the United States, which chuckled to itself when South Korea couldn’t understand why China and Russia opposed so strongly. South Korea should analyze not only whether the introduction of THAAD is likely to provoke more frequent hostility from North Korea, but also how it will influence its relations with close neighbors China and Russia.
THAAD has yet to be deployed, but today North Korea has become more volatile and the relationship between South Korea and China and Russia has been strained, evidencing that Seoul has not thoroughly considered the repercussions of introducing THAAD.
Russia is responding by deploying its own missile defense system in the Far East. Changes will happen in the international community’s sanction system against North Korea. The exceptionally friendly relationship between China and South Korea during Park Geun-hye’s term could be flipped upside down. As for the U.s.-south Korea relationship, it’s not going to improve because of the deployment of THAAD.
South Korea will continue to pay a steep price for more than weapons and security after THAAD is deployed on its territory. The international reaction has been heavily critical of the bilateral agreement between Seoul and Washington that hurts so many others to benefit a few. President Park made an irrational move: Her decision hardly makes a difference to the reclusive leader of North Korea, but heavily disturbs everywhere else in the region and puts its neighboring great powers in dangerous disputes.
Seoul should consider that the dissenting voices on the deployment of THAAD come not only from next door but also inside. As reported in Korea Joongang Daily, Shim Jaegwon, chairman of the Minjoodang Committee, declared the organization’s “opposition to the deployment of THAAD.” Some representatives of the opposition party stated outright that the deployment of the system is meant “not to safeguard South Korea, but to attack China,” and that “China will take its revenge in trade.” Woo Sangho, a representative of the Minjoodang, pointed out that the plan to deploy THAAD was a secret decision hidden from the public and the National Assembly. The appropriate procedures were never followed.
South Korea’s politics has always been a power struggle between progressive and conservative, globally known for fights within the National Assembly as well as movements in the streets. The greatest threat the South Korean government faces may be civil strife, which could spin out of control if the will of the people is continuously ignored as the leadership kneels to Washington in destabilizing the region.
The Asian-pacific region is experiencing upheaval from the East China Sea to the South China Sea because the United States is looking after its own interests in the region. South Korea is neither Japan nor the Philippines. Its core national interest lies in growing its economy and trade, as well as maintaining security and sound relationships with China and the United States. Any shift in the situation will result in drastic change in the relationships between all three countries and cause an imbalance in the fragile strategic patterns of Northeast Asia.
Not only does the deployment of THAAD invalidate the risk coping-mechanism against the DPRK nuclear crisis, but it will trigger regional arms races.