South Korea Suspends Further Deployment of US Missile Shield THAAD after Probe Finds Cover-ups

Elements of the advanced US missile defense system, dubbed the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), are seen here being deployed in a golf course in the country's southeastern county of Seongju, South Korea, on 27 April 2017. Photo: Yonhap/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

  • South Korea has suspended the further deployment of the US THAAD missile defense system designed to shoot down North Korean ballistic missiles.
  • Suspension is temporary, and comes after an investigation of the South Korean Presidency into four US rocket launchers which entered the country without proper documentation.
  • All THAAD elements, including two rocket launchers, already installed will remain in place and operational.
  • Investigation has found that the Defense Ministry tried to make the THAAD system seem smaller so as to avoid a full-blown environmental impact assessment.
  • Cover-up was likely designed to accelerate the missile shield deployment.
  • South Korea’s Presidency has now ordered the Defense Ministry to carry out a full-fledged environmental impact assessment.
  • Assessment may take up to a year, putting on hold the further THAAD deployment.

South Korea has terminated the ongoing deployment of additional elements of the US missile defense system THAAD, which is designed to shoot down ballistic missiles fired by North Korea, over an investigation into the arrival of four US rocket launchers exposing cover-ups at the Defense Ministry in order to evade an environmental impact assessment.

At the end of May, South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in ordered an investigation into what has been described as the “secret” entry into the country of four US rocket launcher as part of the US missile defense system THAAD.

The four launchers in question were supposed to be added to two launchers that had been “accounted for” by the South Korean authorities. Each rocket launcher is armed with eight interceptor missiles.

The advanced US missile defense system has been operational in South Korea since early May 2017, and can intercept ballistic missiles launched by the regime of Kim Jong-un in North Korea.

US troops in South Korea began the the installation the THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, formerly known as Theater High Altitude Area Defense) a day after the North Korean regime celebrated the 85th anniversary since the founding of its military with massive live-fire drills with conventional weapons.

The THAAD uses hit-to-kill technology in which kinetic energy destroys incoming warhead. It can intercept short and medium-range ballistic missiles in the terminal phase of their flight, up to an altitude of 150 km, and has a range of 200 km.

The missile defense system has previously been deployed in Guam and Hawaii as a measure against potential attacks from North Korea.

North Korea has performed a total of 10 ballistic missile firings since since Donald Trump became President of the United States, with seven successful and three failed tests

Ongoing activity and a large number of people have been spotted at North Korea’s nuclear test site, the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Facility, amid lingering concerns that the regime of leader Kim Jong-un could carry out its sixth nuclear test.

People participate in a protest against an advanced US missile defense system, known as THAAD, and march towards the United States Embassy in central Seoul, South Korea, 03 June 2017. Photo: Yonhap/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

THAAD’s Environmental Assessment

The further deployment of elements from the US missile defense system THAAD in South Korea was temporarily suspended on Wednesday, South Korea’s presidential office Cheong Wa Dae (“The Blue House”) said, as cited by the Yonhap news agency.

The South Korean Presidency also confirmed the US missile shield would have to be subject to a full-blown environmental impact assessment.

It is understood that the THAAD elements, which already installed, including two rocket launchers, will remain operational and in place.

“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,” a senior Blue House official told reporters.

The announcement has come after the South Korean Presidency’s investigation into an allegation that the country’s Defense Ministry may have tried to keep the THAAD deployment “under a blanket.”

The probe has concluded a Defense Ministry official did in fact keep secret the delivery of four more THAAD launchers to South Korea.

It also found that the Defense Ministry also tried to seem the whole US missile shield program appear smaller in size and scale in order to keep it from having to undergo an all-out environmental impact assessment.

THAAD’s deployment was carried out rather swiftly at the end of South Korea’s previous presidential administration, under an Acting President, as former President Park had been impeached and charged over corruption, and before the election of South Korea’s new President, Moon Jae-in, who campaigned in favor of engagement with North Korea – although he seems to have modified his stance in the face of ongoing provocations by Pyongyang.

A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) launcher is seen deployed at a golf course in Seongju, North Gyeongsang Province, South Korea, 19 May 2017. Photo: Yonhap/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

As a result of the THAAD investigation, the Blue House has now ordered South Korea’s Defense Ministry to carry out a full-fledged environmental impact assessment for the missile shield.

So far, two THAAD launchers have been deployed out of the total of six that make up a THAAD battery.

According to the cited official of the South Korean Presidency, the deployment of the four additional US THAAD rocket launchers will have to wait until the end of the study on their environmental impact.

When asked to confirm, the official noted the environmental impact assessment could take up to a year.

Angering China

The deployment of the US missile defense system on the Korean Peninsula has been repeatedly slammed by China and Russia which deem it detrimental to their security but America and South Korea have argued that it is designed solely as a means of protection from North Korea.

The same message was recently reaffirmed by the United States and South Korea as well as Japan, including with respect to what are seen as China’s retaliatory economic measures against Seoul over the deployment of the US missile shield THAAD.

In late February, Chinese state media reacted angrily after retailer Lotte, which is South Korea’s fifth largest company, made a land swap with the South Korean Ministry of National Defense, providing an old golf course in Seongju for THAAD’s deployment.

China has also officially urged the US and South Korea to stop the deployment of the THAAD missile shield. However, a recent report suggests that China and South Korea are starting to repair their relations strained by the THAAD deployment.

At the end of May, the regime of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un alleged that its latest ballistic missile firing has been a successful test of a precision-guided system.

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