South Korea is one step closer to making full use of the U.S.-manufactured Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, or THAAD, missile shield. Seoul has formed a government-civilian body to make a long-awaited assessment of the environmental impact on the THADD battery located in Seongju, approximately 300 kilometers south of the capital.
South Korea decided to deploy the THAAD anti-missile defense system in July 2016 in response to missile and nuclear threats from the DPRK, and the first launchers became operational in May 2017. So far this year, the DPRK has launched more than 30 ballistic missiles and is expanding its range of nuclear-capable, short-range missiles that can target South Korea. In addition, the United States and other nations believe Pyongyang is preparing for its seventh nuclear test, the first since 2017.
THAAD is designed to intercept incoming ballistic missiles; it carries no warhead and destroys missiles through impact. In a briefing to reporters, U.S. State Department Principal Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel called THAAD “a prudent and limited self-defense capability designed to counter DPRK weapons programs.” He noted that the United States and South Korea “made an alliance decision to deploy THAAD to the ROK as a purely defensive measure to protect South Korea and its people from armed attack and to protect alliance military forces from the DPRK’s weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile threat.”
The 2016 decision angered the People’s Republic of China, which imposed cultural and trade restrictions on South Korea in response. Last month [August 2022], PRC Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin reiterated Beijing’s opposition to South Korea further strengthening its THAAD system, claiming that it undermines the PRC’s “strategic security interests.”
Principal Deputy Spokesperson Patel emphasized that the goal of the United States is the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. “The U.S. harbors no hostile intent toward the DPRK, and our policy calls for a calibrated, practical approach that is open to and wiling to explore diplomacy with the DPRK to make tangible progress that increases the security of the United States, our allies and our deployed forces,” he said.
“We’re prepared to meet with the DPRK without preconditions, and we hope the DPRK will respond positively to our outreach.”