The U.S. has yet to make any official request to South Korea regarding the deployment of its global missile defense system to the peninsula, Seoul’s Ambassador to Moscow Wi Sung-lac said in a media interview last week.
In the interview with Russia’s Interfax news agency, Wi reiterated Seoul’s position that the South would not join the U.S.-led MD program, which Russia and China believe could be mobilized to shoot down their missiles.
“South Korea will develop its own MD system in consideration of its unique security situation. (The South) will exchange intelligence with the U.S., but our system will not be integrated into America’s global MD network,” he said.
“Since the North can mount nuclear warheads on its rockets, our task is to counter these real threats.”
The interview was published last Friday, one day after Moscow’s Foreign Ministry issued a commentary expressing concerns over the possible deployment of the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system, a key element of the multi-layered U.S. MD program, to the peninsula.
During a Seoul forum last month, U.S. Forces Korea Commander Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti confirmed that Washington was considering deploying THAAD to South Korea to better deal with “evolving” missile threats from the North.
About a week ago, Seoul’s Defense Minister Han Min-koo expressed a positive stance on the THAAD deployment, saying that it would help counter North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats, and strengthen the overall security posture on the peninsula. But Han noted that there had not been any request from the U.S. regarding THAAD.
Seoul has so far maintained a cautious stance as the deployment of any core U.S. MD assets would be perceived participation in the U.S.-led missile shield program.
THAAD is a system to intercept incoming hostile missiles at altitudes of 40-150 km after detecting the missiles with a land-based radar that has a maximum detection range of 1,800 km. Bejing and Moscow are concerned that the high-tech radar could be used to glean intelligence about their militaries.
To avoid fraying ties with the regional powers of China and Russia, the South has been working on developing its independent Korea Air and Missile Defense system, a low-tier, multiple-interception program that destroys incoming missiles at altitudes of 40-50 km.
To intensify missile defense, Seoul has also been seeking to upgrade its current Patriot Advanced Capability-2 interception system to the PAC-3 system, which employs more advanced hit-to-kill technology. It also seeks to develop L-SAM surface-to-air missiles, which would shoot down hostile missiles at altitudes of above 40 km.
Observers said that amid increasing missile threats from the North, Seoul should prioritize enhancing its missile defense with all resources available including the USFK’s deployment of advanced MD assets. Yet, others argue that Seoul should be careful not to damage relations with China and Russia.
By Song Sang-ho (firstname.lastname@example.org)