Washington has confirmed that the US will deploy the THAAD missile defense system to South Korea “as soon as possible”.
The deployment, which Seoul has agreed to host, is allegedly aimed to counter the North Korean threat.
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The US and South Korea are pushing full steam ahead to position the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system on the Korean peninsula, in a move that China and Russia both strongly oppose.
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Speaking to House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel told US lawmakers that the ever-increasing threats from North Korea necessitate urgent action.
While refusing to provide a concrete timeline for the THAAD deployment, Russel said that “given the accelerating pace of North Korea’s missile tests, we intend to deploy on an accelerated basis, I would say, as soon as possible.”
When asked by the Subcommittee if he could confirm THAAD’s deployment is “a done deal,” Russel replied, “yes, I do.” At the same time, the diplomat stressed that despite strong concerns having been expressed over THAAD’s deployment by Pyongyang, Beijing and Moscow, the complex will be deployed for “defensive” reasons only.
“This is a defensive measure aimed not at China, but at North Korea. It is a defense based decision, not a political decision. And it is part of a layered system of defense that will augment many military installations and systems currently in place,” he said.
North Korea has been threatening to nuke both its neighbor and the US base in Guam, in protest against the South’s decision to deploy the THAAD anti-missile system. In response, North Korea has continued to conduct new military technology tests in defiance of UN Security Council sanctions that were tightened in March.
Earlier this month the North launched three ballistic missiles off its east coast into the sea, the latest in a series of more than 10 ballistic tests the North has conducted so far this year. On September 9, North Korea also carried out its fifth, and largest, nuclear test.
China has also warned South Korea against deploying THAAD, warning earlier in the summer that such a move would harm the “foundation of mutual trust.” It urged Seoul to “think twice” about the decision.
Moscow voiced concerns over THAAD’s potential to tip the global balance of power, as the system is designed to intercept short, medium, and intermediate ballistic missiles at the terminal incoming stage.
Additionally, THAAD deployment has also met strong opposition in South Korea, with regular protests taking place against the deployment of US weapons.
The site of the soon-to-be-deployed air defense system should be announced this week, after South Korea and the US agreed on its initial deployment in July. According to the South Korean defense ministry officials that spoke with Yonhap news, the location will be chosen from among the three candidate sites in Seongju County.