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17 August, 2016

THAAD comes to Korea, but at what cost?

Cold War 2.0

The recent announcement that South Korea had agreed to deployment of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system on its territory marks an important advance in the Obama Administration’s militarized Asia pivot. The THAAD battery threatens to destabilize the military balance of power and draw South Korea into an anti-China alliance with the United States and Japan.

The decision came as the culmination of a long and determined campaign by U.S. political and military leaders to pressure the Park Geun-hye government into sacrificing its national interests and antagonize China, in order to serve U.S. geopolitical goals.

The plan to install a THAAD battery met with strong Chinese and Russian criticism and active resistance by Korean progressive forces and residents of Seongju, where THAAD is to be stationed. U.S. officials claim their intent is purely defensive in nature, to shield South Korea from North Korean ballistic missiles, but there is ample cause for skepticism.

The missiles in a THAAD battery are designed to counter incoming ballistic missiles at an altitude ranging from 40 to 150 kilometers. Given North Korea’s proximity, few, if any, missiles fired by the North would attain such a height, given that the point of a high altitude ballistic missile is to maximize distance. Even so, were the North to fire a high altitude ballistic missile from its farthest point, aimed at the concentration of U.S. forces in Pyeongtaek, it would require nearly three and a half minutes for THAAD to detect and counter-launch. In that period, the incoming missile would have already fallen below an altitude of 40 kilometers, rendering THAAD useless. In a conflict with the South, though, North Korea would rely on its long-range artillery, cruise missiles, and short-range ballistic missiles, flying at an altitude well below THAAD’s range.

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