What is THAAD? It stands for Terminal High Altitude Area Defense and it’s essentially a province/state, small country-wide anti-ballistic missile defense system. It apparently has a range of 2,000 kilometers and the U.S. is offering it to both Japan and South Korea. So what? Well, the Chinese don’t like it.
(Image from JoongAng Ilbo)
Although the U.S. says it’s to protect South Korea and Japan against possible missile attack from North Korea, the pure raw capabilities of the THAAD system would indicate that the defensive target isn’t just North Korea. The long-range THAAD missiles, along with their powerful X-Band radars, if deployed in both South Korea and Japan, offers a multilayered anti-ballistic missile defense that could theoretically render a sizable chunk of China’s ballistic missile arsenal obsolete.
Earlier this year the U.S. delivered the enormous X-Band radar that helps power the THAAD, to Kyoto, Japan and the PRC was not pleased.
The spokeswoman for the Chinese foreign ministry, Hua Chunying, said “the deployment of anti-missile systems in the Asia-Pacific and seeking unilateral security is not beneficial” to regional security. In an apparent reference to the Washington’s often quoted excuse of protecting against North Korean antagonism, Hu said the deployment should not be an “excuse to harm the security interests of other countries.”
The Chinese have given rather ominous warnings to South Korea not to adopt THAAD:
China has told South Korea that joining the U.S. missile defense system would cross a “red line” in their bilateral relationship.
And the PRC’s ambassador to South Korea Qiu Guohong:
“The THAAD would have a range of around 2,000 kilometers, which goes beyond the goal of countering missiles from North Korea,”
“The deployment of the THAAD will badly influence the relations between South Korea and China … It would harm China’s security system,”
Cross a “red line?” Badly “influence” relations? Uh, oh. That doesn’t sound good. South Korea, for their part, says they are not interested in THAAD because they are apparently developing their own anti-ballistic weapons system.
In Oct., 2013, South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin said South Korea would “definitely not join the U.S. missile defense system,” citing the associated costs and plans to develop South Korea’s own, similar system.
And that would be the so-called KAMD (“Korean Anti Missile Defense“) system, a mix of Patriot PAC-3 missiles, SM-6 and perhaps SM-3 missiles, guided by the Israeli Green Pine radar. There is also an apparent “indigenous” Korean anti-ballistic missile in the works, which may be similar to an Israeli Arrow type missile.
Publicly, this has been what the Korean government has said about why they may not adopt THAAD, but some Koreans are taking China’s tough talk seriously. One of Korea’s most popular best selling authors, Kim Jin-myung, suspended all this other projects to rush and write a new novel titled “THAAD.” According to Kim:
If it accepts the U.S. calls to deploy the anti-ballistic missile system here, he predicts, this will cost the country its No. 1 trading partner. China remains suspicious of the U.S. motive to deploy THAAD on the Korean Peninsula because it will nullify its ballistic missile system.
[China] reportedly believes that the United States seeks to encircle it.
If South Korea rejects the U.S. calls, Kim claims, it will not only lose its closest ally but also may face a catastrophic circumstance — a war on the peninsula.
A “war on the peninsula?” A bit of hyperbole IMHO, but Kim Jin-myung says he’s not going to take a side in his novel. He just believes there should be public discourse and concensus before the Korean government makes a decision on THAAD.
South Korea’s traditional ally the U.S. or China? Not saying the choice is between the two here, but the choice for South Korea is getting increasingly more complex, especially in light of China’s growing economic power and influence.
(Graphic from the WSJ).