US and South Korea Agree to Early Implementation of Missile Defense Amid Concerns About N. Korean Missile Strike
North Korea's failed missile launch on Saturday was a precursor to the United States's “early activation” of an anti-ballistic missile defense shield, South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reported Monday.
In response to tensions, South Korea and the United States agreed to implement the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, the Telegraph reported, citing the South Korean news agency:
The U.S. and South Korea have agreed to the early activation of a defence system designed to shoot down North Korean missiles, according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency.
The news comes as Vice President Mike Pence paid a surprise visit to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North Korea and South Korea on Sunday. According to the New York Times, Pence told the U.S. troops that the “era of strategic patience is over.”
“This morning's provocation from the North is just the latest reminder of the risks each one of you face each and every day in the defense of the freedom of the people of South Korea and the defense of America in this part of the world,” Pence said of the failed North Korean missile test, which blew up moments after launch.
As the Telegraph reported, Vice President Pence and South Korean President Hwang Kyo-ahn gave a joint statement on Monday that signaled the initiation of THAAD.
“We have agreed to further strengthen the readiness posture of [the] ROK-U.S. alliance that matches the threats posed by North Korea through a swift deployment of THAAD,” Hwang said.
The implementation of a missile defense shield on the Korean peninsula was first reported in March. As CNN reported at the time:
The first pieces of a U.S.-built missile defense system designed to mitigate the threat of North Korean missiles arrived at the Osan Air Base in South Korea Monday night, according to the U.S. military.
The announcement comes just a day after North Korea test-fired four ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan, also known as the East Sea.
The Chinese were opposed to the move, and the reception in South Korea was mixed, according to NPR in March:
Citing the threat posed by North Korean missiles, the U.S. military has sent the first elements of its Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system to South Korea. China has opposed the move, which has also drawn mixed reactions in South Korea.
THAAD works by tracking missiles with forward radar and relaying vector coordinates to radar terminals, which then coordinate rockets fired by mobile launchers.
In March, Russia Today signaled Russian and Chinese hostility to THAAD being deployed in South Korea, asking if it would further “destabilize” the region.
In another sign of regional instability, the Japanese government reported that Russian and Chinese intelligence vessels were tailing the carrier group led by the USS Carl Vinson over the weekend.
Russia, in particular, has been opposed to the U.S. using any form of anti-ballistic missile defense, though Russian countermeasures are believed to be able to defeat the system.
As the Brookings Institution published in “The Limits of U.S. Missile Defense”:
Third, defending the United States against a major Russian or Chinese ballistic missile attack is currently not feasible. A reliable and affordable defense that could protect America against a Russian ICBM and SLBM force that could launch some 1,500 ballistic missile warheads simply does not exist. While the Chinese force is much smaller, numbering several dozen ICBMs, it probably includes countermeasures that would seriously complicate disruption by missile defense systems.
It is unclear if North Korean missiles would be able to defeat THAAD missile defense, should it be ready to initiate “a nuclear war of our own.”