The timing was pretty good. On Tuesday, less than two days after North Korea launched four ballistic missiles toward Japan (which dropped into the ocean), U.S. Air Force aircraft landed at Osan Air Base in South Korea, delivering the first parts of the Terminal High-Altitude Air Defense (“THAAD”) system for deployment there.
The Norks described their missile launches as a “practice drill” to attack U.S. forces in Japan.
Adm. Harry Harris, commander of Pacific Command, issued a statement that said, “Continued provocative actions by North Korea, to include yesterday’s launch of multiple missiles, only confirm the prudence of our alliance decision last year to deploy THAAD to South Korea.”
The reactions from North Korea and China are what we have come to expect from such regimes since the Soviet Union reacted to President Reagan’s announced development of our first missile defense system in 1983. They went nuts. China and the Norks are doing the same on the deployment of THAAD to South Korea.
THAAD is a big deal. It is an anti-aircraft and anti-missile system designed to intercept and destroy short- and medium-range ballistic missiles in the terminal stage of their flight. Though THAAD missiles have a range of about 120 miles, its fire-control radars go out to about 500 miles and its early warning radars may extend to double that range.
THAAD has already been deployed to Japan and the extension to South Korea means that there is a layered missile defense (including shorter-range systems such as Patriot) defending both countries.
We have nearly 30,000 U.S. troops in South Korea and about 50,000 in Japan. With THAAD in place, we have the ability to defeat or at least reduce the effect of any missile attack on South Korea or Japan.
THAAD, like any missile defense we have so far can, of course, be defeated by a saturation attack. If the enemy fires more missiles than we have missile shots to defend against, some of the attacker’s missiles are going to get through.
China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, according to a Financial Times report, said THAAD was, “…the biggest issue affecting China’s relations with the Republic of Korea.” Other Chinese spokesmen have warned of an arms race in the Far East. What they neglect to say is that a Cold War exists between our nations and that they are already pursuing an arms race as fast as their economy will permit.
The Norks threatened “real war” in response to the ongoing U.S.-South Korea military exercises and the THAAD deployment. They have a consistent track record on these threats. You may remember that they threatened “real war” in response to the 2014 movie “The Interview” which outrageously (and hilariously) mocked dictator Kim Jong Un and after previous joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises in August 2016.
As usual, the press is rubbing its knuckles at Chinese threats of an arms race in Asia and the threats from North Korea. Many in the media are saying that the THAAD deployment is a destabilizing force. It is, quite precisely, the opposite.
THAAD poses no threat to China or North Korea (or anyone else) except for one. It provides a real defense against their possible first-strike missile attack and makes such a strike a far less attractive option for them.
The case for missile defenses hasn’t changed since President Reagan presented it in his 1983 speech.
In the beginning of his speech, Reagan said:
The subject I want to discuss with you, peace and national security, is both timely and important. Timely, because I’ve reached a decision which offers anew hope for our children in the 21st century, a decision I’ll tell you about in a few minutes. And important because there’s a very big decision that you must make for yourselves. This subject involves the most basic duty that any President and any people share, the duty to protect and strengthen the peace.
He explained the threat we were facing from the Soviet Union’s missile force this way:
… The Soviet Union is acquiring what can only be considered an offensive military force. They have continued to build far more intercontinental ballistic missiles than they could possible need simply to deter an attack. Their conventional forces are trained and equipped not so much to defend against an attack as they are to permit sudden, surprise offensives of their own.
The same is true for China and North Korea today. Reagan concluded by explaining his action:
Tonight, consistent with our obligations of the ABM treaty and recognizing the need for closer consultation with our allies, I’m taking an important first step. I am directing a comprehensive and intensive effort to define a long-term research and development program to begin to achieve our ultimate goal of eliminating the threat posed by strategic nuclear missiles. This could pave the way for arms control measures to eliminate the weapons themselves. We seek neither military superiority nor political advantage. Our only purpose — one all people share — is to search for ways to reduce the danger of nuclear war.
President Reagan thus laid out the moral necessity of missile defense. Only an aggressor — as the Soviet Union was and Putin’s Russia, China and North Korea are today — can object to purely defensive systems. Each in its own way, then and today, sought and now seeks the clear advantage of attacking without warning and catching our defenses in a state of inadequacy. Missile defenses make the threat of a surprise attack much less than it was before the defenses were in place.
Throughout our history we have suffered the inadequacy of our defenses. From December 1941 at Pearl Harbor we learned the price of that laxity. For eight years, former president Obama reduced our military’s capability of defending ourselves and our allies by, for example, reneging on former president George W. Bush’s promise to deploy ground-based missile defenses in Poland to defend Europe against Iranian missiles. President Trump is now rebuilding that capability with actions such as the THAAD deployment to South Korea.
Thinking the unthinkable is the president’s job. Though Kim Jong Un has yet to make good on his threats, there is no reason to believe he wouldn’t in the future. China has, so far, failed to bring North Korea, its client state, under firm control to reduce Kim’s ability to threaten South Korea and the tens of thousands of Americans there.
Many of our allies’ leaders are said to be exercising “strategic patience” with President Trump, apparently waiting eagerly for his presidency to collapse. What they apparently don’t believe is that the reality of the threats we and they face necessitates determined action to deter — and if necessary defeat — those threats. Fortunately, Mr. Trump is unwilling to view our enemies with the same patience on terms that preserve the laxity of our defenses and give them the strategic advantages they so desperately seek.
Deployment of THAAD to South Korea is an important step. We need more actions to improve our deterrence and ability to defeat our enemies as quickly as they can be taken.