Our National Interests and Security Rely on THAAD: Are We Really OK with This ‘Offbeat’ Debate?

Yesterday, Cheongwadae* spokesperson Min Kyung-ook used a rather novel expression: “Three no’s,” an expression that is meant to represent our government’s cautious stance to the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), which the American government wishes to install rapidly in South Korea. “Three no’s” (no request, no consultation, no decision) means that there hasn’t been an official request from the American government to the South Korean government for the installation, therefore there has been no consultation regarding the issue, and obviously no decision has been made yet.

What Mr. Min has revealed was exactly the same as the government’s existing policy. There is absolutely no reason to pay special attention to yesterday’s remark. Nevertheless, it is still unusual that Cheongwadae, which has remained silent for so long about THAAD, finally offered a response so explicitly. Possibly, it was influenced by the efforts to publicize THAAD by Yu Sueng-min, a Saenuri Party leader, and Won Yu-cheul, chairman of the Saenuri Party’s Policy Committee. It is also worth noting that the United States is becoming worried about South Korea-China relations and where they are heading. On March 9, the Washington Free Beacon, an America web magazine focused on national security, reported that President Xi Jinping offered an economic incentive to President Park Geun-hye for refusing to install THAAD.

THAAD is indeed a hot potato. Ever since Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of the United Nations Command and ROK-U.S. Combined Forces Command, made remarks on THAAD deployment, the U.S. government has been treating the THAAD installation on the Korean Peninsula as de facto official. China, which even issued a borderline threat that it will “have catastrophic effect on Republic of Korea-China relations,” is irritated about this whole THAAD business. We should also remember that this is not just a security issue. This is also an issue of cost, and at the same time a diplomatic issue that will shake the geopolitics of northeast Asia.

It would be a mistake for the government to make its decision quickly and reveal its hand so easily. Looking back, it is also questionable whether Minister of National Defense Han Min-goo’s remark of “strategic ambiguity” was ever appropriate. It is something that we must tread carefully around.

The ruling party’s** leadership is critical of “strategic ambiguity.” It has announced that it will insist on discussion of THAAD in a Committee of Policy Coordination meeting, which will be attended by the ruling party, the government, and Cheongwade, scheduled on March 15. Going one step forward, Rep. Yu even argues that we should just buy off the THAAD from the United States. Of course, the sentiment is widely shared among those who care about the security of the nation; however, it is rather regrettable to see that the ruling party is downplaying the importance of the national budget and the diplomatic aftermath.

A hot potato ought to be handled with care, and the same rule applies to THAAD. The ruling party must ask itself whether it was appropriate for them to openly argue and show confusion among themselves. The ruling party and government, both co-responsible for governing, do not communicate with each other about issues of national interest and security, thereby playing offbeat. They should be aware that the people are confused and irritated about the situation, not to mention the interested parties in the U.S. and China.

*Editor’s note: Cheongwadae, or Blue House, is the presidential residence.

**Editor’s Note: Saenuri Party

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