US must ditch deployment of THAAD missile-defence system

Its sophisticated radar means it can enable military surveillance deep into Chinese and Russian territory, compromising national security and defence to the detriment of the region’s stability.

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 31 July, 2016, 12:15am
UPDATED : Sunday, 31 July, 2016, 12:15am

The planned deployment on China’s doorstep of America’s most advanced missile-defence system is good reason for concern. While the US has convinced South Korea that it is necessary to protect against nuclear attacks from North Korea, its sophisticated radar means that it also enables military surveillance deep into Chinese and Russian territory. National security and defence would consequently be compromised, to the detriment of the region’s stability. Scrapping the project before it goes ahead and working for a better strategy against the threat from Pyongyang would be a more effective approach.

But thoughts of the impact on Beijing and Moscow of the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defence system, commonly referred to as THAAD, have been all but ignored by Washington. Seoul’s leaders have similarly paid little heed to opposition at home and abroad and on July 8, the project with its security ally was given the go-ahead and a location announced. One battery of the US$830 million system, to be under US operational control, could be in place by the end of the year.

South Koreans have every right to want the best protection against the threat posed by the North. So, too, do the 28,500 US soldiers and thousands of other Americans living in the South. Pyongyang set off its fourth nuclear test in January and last month carried out back-to-back firings of a powerful medium-range missile. Since the THAAD announcement, it has tested at least four ballistic missiles, one from a submarine, which could reach all corners of the South.

China and Russia criticise THAAD missile defence system as destabilising region

The provocations have come despite stepped-up UN Security Council sanctions aimed at bringing Pyongyang back to negotiations to scrap its nuclear programme. But the system would not stop the North from carrying out nuclear attacks with bombers or drones. It is designed to target projectiles at altitudes of between 40km and 150km, making its usefulness when located so close to the North limited. Beijing and Moscow have valid cause to suspect its purpose is more to weaken their ability to threaten or defend against the militaries of the US and its allies.

That has implications for Seoul’s ties with Beijing, its biggest trading partner. Perceptions that the US has a policy of containing and encircling China are also strengthened through US military alliances with Japan and Taiwan. The strategy harks back to the cold war between the US and the former Soviet Union, when an arms race caused global instability. It is not too late to prevent a return by ditching the plan.