[News analysis] Hurried THAAD deployment to make fait accompli, before election

Posted on : 2017-04-27 16:46 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Equipment was delivered without having conducted an environmental impact assessment
Residents of Seongju
Residents of Seongju

It was confirmed that US Forces Korea unexpectedly delivered the key components of the THAAD missile defense system - including the radar, the fire control system and the launchers - to the golf course in Seongju, North Gyeongsang Province in the early morning hours of Apr. 26. The delivery is being criticized as an attempt by the South Korean and US governments to prevent the next South Korean president (who will be elected in 13 days) from discussing the issue any further with the US or China, and therefore as an act of deception against the South Korean public and an act of violence against the sovereignty of the Republic of Korea. Minjoo Party candidate Moon Jae-in and Justice Party candidate Shim Sang-jung both strongly expressed their regret, and residents of Seongju County are taking steps to resist the deployment, suggesting that this will have consequences for the presidential election.

According to sources in the military, the US army delivered most of the equipment for the THAAD system to the Seongju golf course on Apr. 26, including the mobile launchers, the X-band radar (AN/TPY-2), the fire control system, the generators and the coolers. “All of the equipment for initial operations has arrived. Apparently only the interceptor missiles have yet to be delivered,” the source told the Hankyoreh. With more shipments of secondary equipment scheduled to arrive soon, the US military is reportedly capable of running operational tests on the equipment whenever it wants.

According to residents of Soseong Village, Seongju County, the military brought in the equipment in two convoys of 26 trailers altogether, with one convoy arriving at 4:43 am and the other at 6:50 am. Around 4,000 riot police were deployed to the scene to block residents opposed to the deployment, and more than 10 residents were injured.

“We’ve been making an effort to acquire the operational capacity of the THAAD system more quickly. This move involved delivering available components of the THAAD system to the deployment site,” South Korea’s Ministry of Defense said on the morning of Apr. 26. The US Defense Department also released a statement on Apr. 26 stating that it is working with the South Korean government to enable the THAAD deployment to be completed as soon as possible.

The South Korean military does not see anything wrong with the fact that the equipment was delivered in disregard of protocol. “We will continue to proceed with the relevant steps as usual, including an environmental impact assessment and facility construction,” a senior Ministry of National Defense official said.

The Defense Ministry had previously said that it would deploy THAAD after the basic procedures were complete. Even on Apr. 17, Defense Ministry spokesperson Moon Sang-gyun said that the deployment “probably wouldn’t be easy to wrap up in a short period of time.” On Apr. 16, a foreign policy aide at the White House said that THAAD was a matter for South Korea’s next president to decide, prompting speculation that the Trump administration was taking steps to slow down the deployment. There were no predictions that the THAAD components would be delivered so suddenly.

“Acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn and the Trump administration completely deceived the South Korean public. I regard this as an act of violence against the sovereignty of the Republic of Korea,” said Jeong Wook-sik, president of the Peace Network.

The US and South Korea are presumably in such a hurry to deploy THAAD because they are trying to make the deployment irreversible before the May 9 presidential election. “This appears to be an attempt by the US military to make [the THAAD deployment] a fait accompli, given the high likelihood that power will change hands in South Korea,” said Kim Jun-hyeong, a professor at Handong Global University.

The Trump administration also has its reasons for speeding up the deployment. With his approval ratings at the lowest level of any previous president leading up to his 100th day in office on Apr. 29, Trump might be hoping to turn things around by resolving the North Korean nuclear issue. One possibility is that Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping may have come to an understanding on the THAAD issue following their Apr. 6-7 summit; another is that Trump was sending a warning message to China to put pressure on North Korea amid a time of confrontation between the US and China. If the move was masterminded by the South Korean government, it will almost certainly be criticized as overt meddling in the presidential election. If the US government was behind the move, on the other hand, the unilateral decision making of the Trump administration could come under scrutiny once again, following the controversy over the fake course change of the US aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson.

By Kim Ji-eun, staff reporter and Yi Yong-in, Washington correspondent

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]


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