The folly of putting pro­tec­tion on ice

The high al­ti­tude air de­fense sys­tem pro­tects South Korea and Amer­i­can troops

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY - By Jed Bab­bin Jed Bab­bin served as a deputy un­der­sec­re­tary of de­fense in the Ge­orge H.W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion. He is a se­nior fel­low of the London Cen­ter for Pol­icy Re­search and the au­thor of five books in­clud­ing “In the Words of Our En­e­mies.”

North Korea rarely misses an op­por­tu­nity to threaten or pro­voke us. It does so most of­ten with the launch­ing of one or more bal­lis­tic mis­siles ac­com­pa­nied by a ha­rangue that the mis­siles would soon be launched at us armed with nu­clear weapons.

So far this year, North Korea has launched 16 mis­siles in 10 sep­a­rate tests. The dif­fer­ent kinds of mis­siles tested, which the Kim Jong-un regime hopes to soon mate with nu­clear war­heads, were ca­pa­ble of ranges from about 600 miles to over 3,000 miles. De­fense Sec­re­tary James Mat­tis has stated plainly that North Korea is a clear and present dan­ger to the world.

Kim’s mis­siles pose a di­rect threat to South Korea and the 38,000 Amer­i­can troops sta­tioned there, as well as to Ja­pan and our forces there. De­fend­ing against an at­tack us­ing those mis­siles has to be a top pri­or­ity for all three na­tions. To help counter that threat we be­gan de­ploy­ing the Ter­mi­nal High Al­ti­tude Air De­fense sys­tem (THAAD) to South Korea in March.

THAAD is a highly-ca­pa­ble mis­sile/radar sys­tem that can kill bal­lis­tic mis­siles in their de­scent stage at very high al­ti­tude, even be­yond earth’s at­mos­phere. Two THAAD bat­ter­ies, each with eight mis­siles, have al­ready been de­ployed in South Korea with the con­cur­rence of for­mer Pres­i­dent, Park Geun-Hye. Four more, with an ad­di­tional 32 mis­siles, are planned to be de­ployed there.

South Korean pol­i­tics have, for months, been roiled by the im­peach­ment of Mrs. Park and the elec­tion of the new pres­i­dent, Moon Jae-in. Mr. Moon’s cam­paign prom­ises in­cluded a re­duc­tion of ten­sions with the North and China which he linked to the pos­si­ble de­lay of THAAD de­ploy­ment. China has ob­jected stren­u­ously to the de­ploy­ment of THAAD, say­ing it could be used to “spy” on Chi­nese mis­sile ca­pa­bil­i­ties. In a call con­grat­u­lat­ing him on his in­au­gu­ra­tion as pres­i­dent, Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping in­vited Mr. Moon to Bei­jing to dis­cuss THAAD.

Mr. Moon has since put fur­ther THAAD de­ploy­ment on ice pend­ing a full en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact study while, at the same time, chastis­ing his de­fense staff for al­legedly not ad­vis­ing him that fur­ther de­ploy­ments were planned. He is ev­i­dently po­si­tion­ing him­self to bar­gain away fu­ture THAAD de­ploy­ment in talks with the Chi­nese.

Mr. Moon should not re­gard THAAD as a bar­gain­ing chip in an ef­fort to re­duce ten­sions with the North and China for two big rea­sons.

First, THAAD is es­sen­tial not only to pro­tect South Kore­ans, it is also es­sen­tial to our abil­ity to pro­tect the 38,000 Amer­i­can sol­diers, sailors, air­men and Marines sta­tioned there.

Sec­ond, if Mr. Moon were to trade THAAD for some promised re­duc­tion in North Korean ag­gres­sion (or Chi­nese prom­ises to rein in the Kim regime), his bar­gain would be cer­tain to fail. North Korea has never kept one of its many prom­ises to stop de­vel­op­ing and test­ing of bal­lis­tic mis­siles and nu­clear weapons. More­over China has never taken any real steps to rein in the North Kore­ans and has no new mo­ti­va­tion to do so now.

It is un­re­al­is­tic, bor­der­ing on ir­ra­tional, to be­lieve that North Korea can be dis­armed peace­fully. Given its part­ner­ships with Iran on nu­clear weapons and mis­siles, it’s even ques­tion­able whether North Korea is sus­cep­ti­ble to de­ter­rence.

Right now, with two THAAD bat­ter­ies in place, the North Kore­ans could do the sim­ple arith­metic and de­cide to at­tack with more mis­siles than the 16 we have, over­whelm­ing the de­ployed bat­ter­ies. De­ploy­ing the other four THAAD bat­ter­ies won’t pre­vent that from hap­pen­ing, but it would sig­nif­i­cantly re­duce the ef­fec­tive­ness of any North Korean mis­sile at­tack and in­crease the mar­gin of time for a U.S. and South Korean coun­ter­at­tack.

Be­fore Mr. Moon goes to China, or en­gages Kim Jong-un in any ne­go­ti­a­tion, Pres­i­dent Trump should re­mind him of the ne­ces­sity of de­ploy­ing THAAD to pro­tect our troops. In his March 1983 speech kick­ing off our mis­sile de­fense pro­gram, Pres­i­dent Rea­gan laid out the moral case — in­deed the moral im­per­a­tive — to de­fend lives if we have the choice be­tween de­fend­ing them and aveng­ing their loss. What Mr. Rea­gan said 34 years ago is no less true to­day.

Mr. Trump should thus make it clear to Mr. Moon that if he bar­gains THAAD away in an ef­fort to ap­pease the North Kore­ans or Chi­nese, we will re­duce the num­ber of Amer­i­can troops in South Korea, per­haps dras­ti­cally, to pre­vent them from fall­ing vic­tim to North Korean ag­gres­sion. That con­ver­sa­tion would ob­vi­ously have to be kept se­cret which is a dif­fi­cult task in Mr. Trump’s leaky White House.

Mr. Moon knows that South Korea’s ex­is­tence has de­pended on the United States since the North in­vaded it in June 1950 be­gin­ning the Korean War. We have sac­ri­ficed a great many lives in its de­fense in that war and since have spent many bil­lions of dol­lars for the same pur­pose. He must un­der­stand — or be brought to un­der­stand — that our com­mit­ment to his na­tion is not with­out lim­its.

In 1983 Mr. Rea­gan ex­plained that by amass­ing a mis­sile force far be­yond that re­quired for its own de­fense the Soviet Union was un­der­min­ing a shaky peace. To­day, North Korea is do­ing the same thing with the same re­sult. That is all the rea­son we — and Mr. Moon — should need to con­tinue the THAAD de­ploy­ment in his na­tion with­out de­lay.

Mr. Trump should thus make it clear to Mr. Moon that if he bar­gains THAAD away in an ef­fort to ap­pease the North Kore­ans or Chi­nese, we will re­duce the num­ber of Amer­i­can troops in South Korea.


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