The scenes on TV screens were heartbreaking and incomprehensibly absurd. Just a few days after North Korea tested what it called a hydrogen bomb, hundreds of people clashed violently with a large police force as they attempted to obstruct the installation of an anti-missile system delivered here to protect them against missiles from the North -- possibly those mounted with nuclear bombs.
It took eight hours from midnight Sept. 6 to complete the transportation of the components of a US Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense battery to a hilltop site in Seongju, North Gyeongsang Province. Groups of uniformed men removed villagers and activists alike away from their barricade one by one. Some 50 on both sides were injured in the melee.
We had seen similar extreme civilian protests some years back at Gangjeong Village on Jeju Island where a naval base was built. The objectors at Seongju screaming “THAAD, No!” are totally mistaken if they believe they were justly exercising their civil rights as their counterparts in Gangjeong had. They must know most South Koreans in 2017 now feel they are on the brink of war.
The Lockheed Martin-developed THAAD system may not be a perfect shield against North Korean missile and nuclear threats, but we need it even if it is only 10 percent effective or less. We will have to supplement the other 90 percent with PAC-2, PAC-3, Aegis-based rockets or any other defensive weapons available to protect ourselves and our children from the insanity of North Korea’s leadership.
North Korea has fired an alphabet soup of rockets -- ICBM, IRBM, SLBM -- and tested a nuclear bomb that could turn Seoul into ashes. The North’s detonation of a thermonuclear device on Sept. 3 could mark the beginning of darkness for the Southern republic, holding it hostage to the North’s weapons of mass destruction. We have to resist such a fate with a great reawakening in all sectors, in the government and civil society with Soseong villagers joining.
President Moon Jae-in issued a cautious statement to explain that the “temporary” deployment of the THAAD battery was the best possible measure to protect the lives of the people. He duly played the part of a leader trying to communicate well with the citizenry, but one wonders why he had to be so apologetic to affected residents though the government has done something so desirable for national security.
A crisis offers a chance for a leader to prove his greatness. President Moon can earn an honorable place in history by acting resolutely and effectively under hard circumstances. Instead of releasing a statement to the media, he should have made a live TV address to the nation, exhorting the people to follow his lead in wading through the crisis.
Moon, at the height of campaigning in April, remarked that another North Korea nuclear test would make it necessary, or inevitable, to deploy a complete the THAAD battery here. After his election, however, his stance wobbled under pressure from liberal allies and threats from China. Kim Jong-un’s “hydrogen bomb” awakened our president from the faint hope of a negotiated settlement.
South Korea spent years without a principle on THAAD. From the time the George W. Bush administration formulated a comprehensive missile defense system in the early 2000s, Seoul delayed a decision in the face of Chinese and Russian warnings against its inclusion in the US network. It was in the summer of 2016 that the Park Geun-hye administration finally agreed with Washington to introduce THAAD into the country.
The THAAD deployment process coincided unfortunately with the political confusion over the Choi Soon-sil scandal from the latter part of 2016. Components of the missile defense system arrived in the country a few days before Park was fired by the Constitutional Court on March 10 this year. Two out of six units of the first THAAD battery were installed at the Seongju site on April 26 during the two-month presidential election campaign period.
THAAD with the US Forces in Korea has both practical and symbolic effect. History awarded the Moon government the grave task of deterring war and protecting Korean lives against a regime with which it had sought reconciliation. No mistake is allowed in this mission, and neither is succumbing to foreign pressures.
In the course of installing the missile defense system here, the nation has exposed many weaknesses and fallacies. Ill-intentioned politicians, politicized activists and irresponsible media took advantage of public ignorance such as claiming that electronic waves from THAAD radars could harm the human body. For THAAD opponents, China’s objection was the most important negative factor – by implication, this meant China’s security was more important than ours, the Republic of Korea’s.
Looking back over the short history of democracy here, we have enjoyed the thrills and excitement of changing government on a regular basis, but dropped our guard too much against the ever belligerent regime in the North. While successive generations of dictators in the North accelerated development of weapons of mass destruction, the changing leaders in the South variously discounted Northern threats with ideological measures and never dreamed of nuclear armament.
The cost of trial and error is too high and a sense of despair prevails in the national psyche. As a wholly new phase starts in the South-North confrontation, the public should now be clearly informed of the reliability of the US extended nuclear deterrence adjusted to meet the new threats of intercontinental ballistic missiles and thermonuclear bombs. The government should decide how to restore military balance and establish security equilibrium, either through the reintroduction of US tactical nuclear arms or our independent nuclear development, or both.
The party that had vehemently opposed THAAD introduction as the main opposition group is now in power. In order to redeem itself of the past folly, the Moon administration should spur on the path toward a rock hard national security posture with new resolve. Failure is unthinkable. One related step is to give up the plan to halt the construction of two nuclear reactors in Kori. It will help the president win more credibility about his determination to make a fresh start. By Kim Myong-sik
Kim Myong-sik is a former editorial writer for The Korea Herald. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org – Ed.