THAAD deployment could slow down as Pres. Moon orders environmental assessment

Posted on : 2017-06-06 13:34 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
To avoid a proper environmental assessment, Defense Ministry appears to have gamed the system
 at the Blue House on June 5. (Blue House photo pool)
at the Blue House on June 5. (Blue House photo pool)

The THAAD deployment schedule appears more likely to slow down from its original plan after President Moon Jae-in confirmed on June 5 that the Ministry of National Defense was attempting to avoid an environmental impact assessment (EIA) for the deployment and ordered it to “carry out suitable assessment measures according to the law.”

The next question is how far the investigation into who ordered the EIA dodge will go.

Gaming the system to ensure only small-scale EIA

It is possible that completion of the deployment before the end of 2017 as initially agreed upon with the US by the Park Geun-hye administration (2013-16) could be ruled out if the EIA issue is reexamined. The typical procedure for development projects involves a strategic EIA, followed by announcement of the project’s approval, acquisition of the land, design, an environmental impact assessment (regular or small-scale), and the start of construction. The Ministry of National Defense is currently undergoing only a small-scale EIA, while a strategic EIA for the THAAD side in Seongju, North Gyeongsang Province, was skipped altogether. A small-scale EIA can be finished in around six months, while a combined strategic EIA and normal EIA together can take up to two years.

The Blue House’s investigation has found circumstantial evidence suggesting the Ministry of National Defense not only gamed the system to avoid a full-scale EIA, but also attempted to cover up or misrepresent the facts.

The area of the site the ministry planned to donate to US Forces Korea for the THAAD deployment is 700,000 square meters. In a report drafted on Nov. 25 of last year, the ministry set a plan for donating it in two stages: 328,779 square meters in the first stage and the remaining 370,000 square meters in the second. When faced with questions over the need for an EIA in the past, the ministry deflected them by responding that the Environmental Impact Assessment Act stipulated only a small-scale EIA because the site was less than 330,000 square meters.

The ministry’s ploy appeared aimed at meeting a tight schedule for year-end deployment: a regular EIA typically takes around one year, while a small-scale one can be finished in six months. Indeed, the ministry hurried to select an EIA agency in Dec. 2016, two months before it acquired from Lotte the Seongju golf course to serve as a THAAD site.

Covering up splitting of 700,000 sq.m. site?

To avoid a regular EIA, the ministry resorted to an odd bisection of the 700,000 square meter site.

“If you look at the 328,779 square meter portion of the selected site, it forms an inverted ‘U,’” explained Senior Secretary to the President for Public Relations Yoon Young-chan.

“It looks as though it was designed in an abnormal way to leave out the middle portion of the upside-down U-shaped site,” Yoon said.

In the past, the ministry has repeatedly reported the area of the site to be donated at 328,779 square meters. Revelations that the actual total area is 700,000 square meters - and that the plan was to donate it in two stages - are raising allegations of a systematic cover-up.

The 700,000 square meter total area is large, accounting for nearly half the golf course’s total area of 1.48 million square meters. Questions have been raised about why such a large site was necessary. Indeed, the area is nearly seven times the 110,000 square meter area of the nearby Seongsan artillery site where South Korea and the US initially planned to deploy THAAD. The size also conflicts with the ministry’s claims that the deployment directly required an area of less than 100,000 square meters, or 320,000 meters including a surrounding buffer zone.

President Moon Jae-in presides over a meeting of his senior secretariat and advisors
President Moon Jae-in presides over a meeting of his senior secretariat and advisors
Who ordered the EIA dodge?

Moon’s order on June 5 to carry out a lawful EIA did not specify exactly what kind will be conducted. But with the revelations that the site to be donated exceeds 330,000 square meters in area, a normal rather than small-scale EIA appears inevitable. Moon also gave orders at the same time to uncover additional information about how the attempted EIA dodge happened and who ordered it - raising questions as to whether the investigation will extend to Minister of National Defense Han Min-koo, former Blue House National Security Office chief Kim Kwan-jin, and even former Acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn.

Current Blue House National Security Office chief Chung Eui-yong explained the situation to Combined Forces Command commander Vincent Brooks and US Defense Department Missile Defense Agency director James Syring during their June 5 visit to the Blue House, the Blue House reported.

“A domestic examination is under way to ensure the democratic and procedural legitimacy of THAAD and establish transparency,” Chung said.

He went on to say re-examination of the THAAD deployment would be conducted “with priority consideration for national interests in the basic spirit of the South Korea-US alliance.”

The Blue House reported that Brooks and Syring “thanked him for this explanation and expressed that they fully understood and trusted the South Korean government’s position.”

By Park Byong-su, senior staff writer and Kim Ji-eun, staff reporter  

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

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