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National Security Desk / June 8, 2017

S. Korea’s THAAD Delay Risks More Kim Provocations

The South’s new president ordered the delay, but now is the worst possible time to be playing politics with THAAD.

Yesterday, South Korea officials made an ill-advised decision to halt further implementation of the U.S. missile defense system known as THAAD. Newly elected president Moon Jae-in — a THAAD critic — ordered the delay pending an environmental impact assessment. But the writing has been on the wall for a while. As The Telegraph reports, THAAD’s postponement “follows a political outcry over allegations that the new liberal president … was kept in the dark by defence officials about how much equipment had already been allowed into the country.” Furthermore, “Moon, who was elected on a platform of deeper engagement with Kim Jong-un’s rogue regime in Pyongyang, has previously voiced his reservations about THAAD, urging Washington to respect the will of the South Korean people.”

Currently there are two missile systems installed. And according to an anonymous senior South Korean official, “We are not saying the two launchers and other equipment that has already been deployed should be withdrawn. But those that have yet to be deployed will have to wait.” This essentially means that four additional systems will be shelved for the foreseeable future. In fact, South Korea is claiming “that an environmental assessment of the additional equipment could take up to a year,” the Telegraph says. The insistence on an environmental impact assessment combined with whatever political machinations are occurring among South Korea’s public servants seems to have morphed into a perfect storm, providing Moon the motive he needed to stifle the project. But while the U.S. and Korea quibble over the future of THAAD, North Korea won’t be sitting idly by.

Consider this report: “North Korea fired what appeared to be several land-to-ship missiles off its east coast on Thursday, South Korea’s military said, a day after the South postponed full deployment of a controversial U.S. anti-missile system designed to deter a North Korean attack,” Reuters reports. These tests aren’t surprising, of course, but the point is that the bickering over THAAD provides Kim Jong Un even greater motivation to test his nuclear arsenal. And without an adequate defense system in place — which is the entire point of installing THAAD — Kim will feel more inclined to lethally utilize his warheads. Now is the worst possible time to be playing politics with THAAD.

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