US and South Korea Complete Land Transfer In Preparation for Deployment of THAAD

According to the article the conclusion of the land transfer to USFK allows the US military to expedite preparations to deploy the THAAD missile defense system to the site:

Heavy equipment from USFK enters a THAAD deployment site in Seongju, southeast South Korea, on April 20, 2017. Some local residents protested the move. (Yonhap)

South Korea and the United States completed the regulatory process needed for Seoul’s provision of a base site for a U.S. missile defense battery, the foreign ministry said Thursday.

A bilateral committee on the status of U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) approved the plan for land transfer, allowing the U.S. military to begin work for the deployment of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system in the some 300,000-square-meter land in the southeastern county of Seongju.

The land was formerly owned by a Lotte Group affiliate and used as a golf course.  [Yonhap]

You can read more at the link.

US Vice President Warns North Korea to Not Test President Trump’s Resolve

US Vice President Mike Pence says the era of strategic patience is over.  So I wonder what they are going to call their new North Korea policy then, the “All Options on the Table” policy?:

This combined photo shows South Korea’s Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn (R) and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaking during a press conference at Hwang’s official residence in Seoul on April 17, 2017. (Yonhap)

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Monday warned North Korea against testing America’s mettle with its saber-rattling, saying Washington will defeat any use of military force with an “overwhelming and effective” response.

During a press conference with South Korea’s Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, Pence also reassured South Korea that Washington’s security commitment to its Asian ally is “ironclad and immutable.”

“North Korea will do well not to test his (Trump’s) resolve or strength of the armed forces of the United States in this region,” Pence said, noting the U.S. president’s recent decision on military action in Syria and Afghanistan.

“We hope to achieve this objective (Pyongyang’s denuclearization) through peaceful means, but all options are on the table,” he added.  [Yonhap]

You can read the rest at the link.

Vice Chairman of Seoul Financial Forum Comes out Against THAAD Deployment to Korea

The Vice Chairman of the Seoul Financial Forum has come out against the deployment of THAAD to Korea:

James Rooney

James Rooney, vice chairman of the Seoul Financial Forum, said that South Korea will suffer unwanted consequences for its deployment of a U.S. missile defense system, describing the move as a “self-inflicted” mistake.

He said that South Korea needs to keep the U.S. engaged but not at the expense of antagonizing China through inappropriate access to the latter for either Washington or Japan through a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system.

“Bringing THAAD onto the Korean Peninsula is the most thoughtless thing that South Korea has done in a long time,” Rooney told The Korea Times.

He said that THAAD is next to the worst solution to solve the North Korea nuclear issue. He believes that it will further sour relations among neighbors and escalate geopolitical tension in the region

“THAAD is an unnecessary and distracting sideshow from much bigger and urgent issues that need to be addressed today, both within Korea and in the neighborhood,” he said.

“But it will not go away by ignoring it, and China’s issues with it will not change just because we want to argue the case differently,” he added. “We need to respect their opinion and take actions accordingly.”

Using the example of a spy cam, Rooney, a professor of international finance at Sogang University, explained why China is so sensitive to the missile defense system.

“Imagine your next door neighbor installed a spy cam system that enabled him to look over into your garden and could even tell what was going on inside your house,” he said.

His argument was that he installed it to watch out for thieves and villains coming from the other direction and has nothing to do with the neighbor.

“You cannot imagine why your neighbor would want to give this party access to information about themselves like this, but you certainly do not want any third parties to have greater abilities to monitor you and potentially threaten you with defensive weapons,” he said.

It is claimed that THAAD is purely defensive, but he said that there is no good reason to believe that the claims made for its defensive capabilities will play out to prevent loss of human life in the future.

“Many may not realize that it actually adds to the potential for death and destruction in the neighborhood because once it is installed there will be a temptation for the targeted adversary to test it to see what happens,” he added. “That temptation is not present if THAAD is not present.”  [Korea Times]

You can read the rest at the link.

Mr. Rooney’s spy camera claims are only valid if you assume that the US currently has no sensors to track Chinese ballistic missile launches.  Does anyone really think the US has no sensors right now to track Chinese missile launches?  Does Mr. Rooney know that two identical AN/TPY-2 radars, identical to the one THAAD uses is located just across the water from Korea in Japan.  Why didn’t China complain about the installation of those radars.  Plus if THAAD in Korea is going to be used to spy on Chinese ballistic missile launches, it is pointed in the wrong direction of where China’s ballistic missile test range is located at.

The THAAD radar is not a 360 radar, like other missile defense systems such as Patriot, it is a directional radar pointed towards the enemy ballistic missile threat.  To look towards western China the radar would have to be completely turned away from North Korea making it useless to defend against ballistic missiles fired from North Korea.  Plus if the radar is turned towards western China satellite surveillance from China would easily detect this and would validate their current claims.  The US military is not stupid and knows they can’t point the radar towards China with no one noticing.

Red line represents 3,000 km range perimeter for the THAAD radar in Korea, based off the greatest range estimates for the system if it was pointed towards western China.  The yellow line represents 3,000 km range estimate for a Kyogamisaki Communications Site AN/TPY-2 radar in western Japan which the Chinese did not protest against the installation of.  Graphic from the Diplomat

Then Mr. Rooney’s claim that North Korea would actually launch something at THAAD “to see what happens” is very unlikely.  Launching a ballistic missile into South Korea could be interpreted as an act of war and met with a heavy response.  Plus all across South Korea the US and the ROK military already have Patriot missile batteries deployed at key locations.  The North Koreans have never launched a ballistic missile into South Korea “to see what happens” with those systems.  THAAD like Patriot is missile defense system, just with greater range to shoot down more capable threats the North Koreans have developed that the Patriot system has less capability to shoot down.

The reason why China is opposed to THAAD is the simplest answer which is they are attempting to create a wedge in the US-ROK alliance.  I think it will ultimately fail considering how even the left wing ROK politicians favored to win the ROK presidency have now come out to support the THAAD deployment.

Presidential Front Runner Says Trump Must Consult with ROK Before a North Korean Strike

I have no doubt that President Trump will consult with the ROK government before any preemptive strike on North Korea, the real question is how long before any strike will he consult and what influence will the ROK have on the decision?:

Moon Jae-in

The U.S. Donald Trump administration must have prior consultation with Seoul before taking any confrontational actions concerning North Korea, including launching a preemptive strike, South Korean politicians said.

The politicians, including presidential candidate Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party of Korea (DPK), said Seoul is directly involved in the North Korean issue, noting that any actions taken by Washington will have a direct impact on the Korean Peninsula.  (…….)

“South Korea should be the owner of North Korean issues and take the lead in dealing with them rather than letting neighboring countries such as the U.S. and China manage them,” Moon told reporters, Saturday, referring to the outcome of the summit talks between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“The U.S. is talking about various possibilities regarding its confrontational actions on the North. The U.S. must consult with South Korea before whatever measure it takes,” he said.  [Korea Times]

You can read more at the link.

USS Stethem Becomes First US Ship to Visit Jeju Naval Base

This will likely be the first of many visits by US ships to the controversial ROK naval base on Jeju island:

A US Aegis destroyer visited South Korea’s naval base on the southern resort island of Jeju on Saturday, becoming the first foreign warship to visit the base since it opened in February last year, officials said.

The 8,400-ton USS Stethem arrived at the base at around 9:50 a.m. for a two-day stay, after participating in the Foal Eagle joint military drills with South Korea in the East Sea from March 17-21, according to the officials.

The soldiers will take part in various programs to boost ties between the two countries and rest before heading back to the vessel’s home port in Japan, they said.

The residents of a nearby village held a press conference and protested the ship’s entry, saying it would bring “catastrophe” to the “peaceful” island.   [Korea Herald]

You can read more at the link.

US Secretary of State Announces Strategic Patience Policy With North Korea Has Ended

It appears to me that the Trump administration’s get tough on North Korea policy that includes increased emphasis on military strike rhetoric is aimed more at China than North Korea.  Tillerson seems to be basically signaling to the Chinese that if they don’t enforce stronger sanctions and reign in North Korea then the US will by military means:

In a press conference in Seoul, Tillerson declared the end of former U.S. President Barack Obama’s “strategic patience” policy and signaled a sharp turn toward a tougher policy involving ramped-up sanctions, pressure and even military actions.

“The policy of strategic patience has ended,” he said. “We are exploring a new range of diplomatic, security and economic measures. All options are on the table.”

Tillerson said that military measures could be one option if the threat from the North gets too high.

He also ruled out the possibility of any immediate negotiations. He noted that conditions are “not ripe” for any talks with the North, while calling on China to do more to induce a meaningful change in its behavior.

In Tokyo, he emphasized the need for a “new approach” after the failure of the past two decades of talks and aid to the North on hopes that it will take the path to denuclearization.

He didn’t provide details but provided a glimpse into what appears to be the Trump administration’s new policy toward the recalcitrant North, experts said.

Wang, meanwhile, hinted that China doesn’t see eye-to-eye with the U.S. on how to deal with the North. He said that diplomacy should be pursued and called for the resumption of the long-suspended six-party denuclearization talks.  [Yonhap]

You can read more at the link.

US Secretary of State Tillerson to Visit South Korea Next Week

I am sure the US Secretary of State will have plenty to talk about with his ROK counterparts next week considering all the domestic political and security issues between the two countries:

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is to visit South Korea later this week for meetings with senior government officials to discuss issues of mutual concern including the growing nuclear and missile threats from North Korea, officials said Sunday.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will stay in South Korea for two days from March 17 during which he will meet with Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se and other senior government officials.

Tillerson’s talks with Yun will be held on the first day of his stay in Seoul. They are expected to discuss mostly the North’s nuclear threat and cooperation in applying more pressure and sanctions on Pyongyang, according to the officials.  [Yonhap]

You can read more at the link.