2016: Park Administration's Crisis and THAAD

Peace Network Korea
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Anxious about Park Administration's Crisis, United States Tries to Rush THAAD Deployment

By Jeong Wooksik

The Obama administration seems to be heading the wrong way, as it is wrongheaded in its fevered attempt to deploy THAAD(Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) in South Korea.

Vincent Brooks, the USFK (United States Forces in Korea) Commander, stated on November 4th, that "you're gonna see the deployment of a THAAD battery," emphasizing that the deployment is an "alliance decision." Notably, he suggested the time frame of the deployment for the first time. According to him, South Korea will see the deployment of THAAD "in the next 8 to 10 months." He also added that the "army unit ... [deployed in South Korea will be] a larger configuration than the one in Guam."

The day before Commander Vincent Brooks made his statement about the deployment of the THAAD in South Korea, Daniel Russell, the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, had made similar remarks in saying that -despite the corruption scandal where President Park and her close friends and aides are accused of abuse of power, extortion, racketeering, illegal access to classified information, etc.- there are no changes when it comes to the "important priorities in the U.S.-ROK alliance, including the timeline for the deployment of the THAAD system." He further went on to reiterate his position that THAAD is "a necessary and common sense defensive measure" and that "it is not intended as a signal to others, particularly not as a signal to China."

Meanwhile, South Korea, the principal ally on this matter, finds itself at a crucial juncture. South Koreans are dismayed by the "Park Geunhye-Choi Sunsil Gate." On the one hand, the public is deeply disturbed and ashamed by the corruption scandal of such massive degree. On the other hand, they view this scandal as a catalyst for the creation of a grassroots opposition movement, through which they will try to reclaim their rights as democratic citizens. The United States, which claims to be the democratic ally of South Korea, should wait and see what changes the popular will might may bring in the near future. Instead, the United States seems to be anxious that South Koreans' democratic movement may derail the deployment of THAAD. Regardless of the struggle going on in South Korea, the United States government seems to only care about its narrow agenda to put more weapons system in the country. This unscrupulous behavior is not that one would expect from an ally.

THAAD, in essence, is a “strategic asset” made by the United States. It is the United States that requested its deployment, and, once deployed, the United States will be responsible for its operation. However, the Obama administration has never once made a persuasive argument to the people of South Korea for the deployment of THAAD, ever since the official announcement was made on July 8th, 2016. The United States has also failed to convince China, which has been the strongest opponent of the deployment to South Korea.

Four months have passed since the United States and South Korean government announced their plan to deploy THAAD in South Korea. Since that announcement, it has been clear that the people of South Korea, the very people that supposedly need protection, are the ones that have fallen victim to the government’s unilateral decision. Ever since the bombshell of an announcement was dropped on the citizens of Seongju and Gimcheon that their towns had been designated as a site for the deployment of THAAD, these citizens have been holding candlelight vigils every night. It has been 120 days since the citizens of Seongju launched an opposition movement against the deployment of THAAD in their town, and 70 days for those in Gimcheon. With China imposing retaliatory sanctions against South Korean business enterprises, South Korea's already sluggish economy took a hit.  

Yet, the Obama administration keeps pressuring the Park administration to push for the installation of THAAD in South Korea. One cannot help but wonder, does the United States truly believe that the Park administration, whose approval rating has now hit the a low 5%, has the necessary drive to pursue its policy goals? Does the United States believe that furious South Koreans will get behind the Park administration's policy on THAAD? The Obama administration must realize that as the United States keeps rushing the deployment of THAAD, South Koreans will become more and more wary of the United States' motive behind this policy and, possibly, the South Korea-US alliance itself.

Many South Koreans have already expressed their concerns over not only the effectiveness and strategic benefit of THAAD but also the undemocratic, sudden and mysterious way its deployment has been decided. By rushing its way to put massive THAAD bases in South Korea, with no regard for the will of the people, the United States could seriously undermine the relationship between the two countries in the future.

When it comes to the way President Barack Obama, the Nobel Peace laureate, deals with issues regarding the Korean peninsula, South Koreans unfortunately hold less-than-favorable opinion of him. They see that under the guise of the “strategic patience” policy, the Obama administration has sat by as North Korea was significantly improving its nuclear capabilities. In turn, the Obama administration has tried to sell more arms to South Korea while using North Korea's nuclear capability as a fig leaf to counter China for its end goal of building a tripartite military alliance between the United States, Japan, and South Korea.

The Obama administration has only a few months left to turn things around on the Korean peninsula. For the remaining time in office, President Obama must overturn his policy on THAAD, make constructive efforts to re-initiate talks with North Korea, and build a viable legacy in the region so the next American administration can have a “fresh start” with both North and South Korean governments. It is the least he could do for many South Koreans who have suffered throughout the last 4 months of crisis brought about by his plan to deploy THAAD in the country.

We are seeing the beginning of the winter. The citizens of Seongju and Gimcheon, including the elderly population and the children, and many other South Koreans in solidarity with them will be forced to stand in the cold weather with candles in their hands. They should be able to live in peace without having to fight every day, and it will take retraction of the THAAD policy for them to go back to their daily life. The United States and South Korean government must re-examine this policy and come up with plans that are conducive to peace in the region, instead of engaging in an not arms race or conflict. Surely, the US-South Korea alliance is strong enough to survive the retraction of their decision to deploy THAAD in South Korea.

Translation: Jeonghyun Seong (seongjeonghyun@gmail.com)


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