By Kongdan Oh
Koreans still suffer from a “shrimp among whales” syndrome. Although they have become a developed country with a high international profile, thanks to their globally marketed products and the popularity of “hallyu” pop culture, they often see themselves as caught between the United States on the one hand and China on the other.
A recent case is the decision to let the Americans install a THAAD anti-ballistic missile battery to help defend against an attack from North Korea. The decision would appear to be entirely justified in the face of the Kim regime’s expanding missile program and continuing threats to turn South Korea into a “sea of fire.” However, because the battery is designed and operated by the Americans, the Chinese and Russians claim to view it as a direct threat to their security, and consequently have lobbied South Korea to forgo this means of protecting themselves.
The arguments that China, and to a lesser extent Russia, have voiced are somewhat contradictory. One argument is that THAAD is not for protection against North Korea’s missiles, but instead will be targeted at their own missiles. This is a strange argument on two counts. First, few Koreans have even thought about the possibility of being attacked by Chinese or Russian missiles. Second, it is widely acknowledged that THAAD would have very limited effectiveness in combating an all-out ICBM attack from a major military power.
A more coherent objection is that the radar system used by THAAD would provide the United States with valuable intelligence about everything that goes on in Chinese and Eastern Russian airspace. It would be surprising, however, if the United States did not already have this kind of capability.
That the chief reason for deploying THAAD is to counter North Korean missiles seems to be overlooked. One Chinese article belittled the North Korean threat by asserting that “North and South Korea have gotten themselves into an extremely foolish negative security competition.” Yet the author admitted that “In the past, only North Korean missiles targeted South Korea.” He then added—and this is probably why the Chinese censors deleted the online article a few days later — that “in the future, North Korean, Chinese, and Russian missiles will target targets within South Korea.”
See also, China’s THAAD Dilemma . . .