The South Korean government has suspended the deployment of the American THAAD missile defense system intended to protect them and Japan from a potential North Korean nuclear strike.
The system, although specifically defensive in its capabilities, has drawn harsh criticism from North Korea and its largest ally, China, and was approved by the South Korean government prior to the election of the new liberal President Moon Jae-in. According to a statement made by the South Korean government, the existing platforms will not be removed, but the four additional launchers President Moon claims he was never apprised of will no longer be deployed until “a full-blown environmental impact assessment is completed.”
President Moon would seem to be making good on a campaign promise to his constituents in this decision. Throughout his campaign, he called for the THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) system roll out to be halted, stating that any further decision regarding its use should be brought before the nation’s parliament for discussion.
Moon has continued to call for open communications with North Korea, even amidst an uptick in ballistic missile tests, and has stated that his nation must “learn to say no” to Washington. As a part of his softened position on North Korea, Moon has attempted to send aid workers over the border, but Kim Jong Un has repeatedly rebuked such offers.
The THAAD system, which uses ballistic projectiles that aren’t armed with explosive warheads to intercept missiles before they are able to reach their target destinations, is equipped with a powerful radar array that China claims can be used to spy on equipment placements within their borders. In recent weeks, however, China has shifted its complaints toward claims that the placement of the system is exacerbating tensions between North Korea, its neighbor to the South, and the United States.
The THAAD system is not without its detractors within South Korea as well. Protests were sparked as the missile platforms were deployed, and some credit Moon’s criticism of the U.S. strategy on North Korea with aiding in his victory in the presidential election in April, after his predecessor was forced out of office due to a massive corruption scandal.