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Aug 3, 2017 | 19:38 GMT

South Korea: Another Roadblock to a Missile Defense System Rollout Is Removed

(Stratfor)

The South Korean Ministry of Defense said Aug. 3 that it would deploy the remaining Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) launchers in Seongju before the completion of an environment assessment if told to do so by the South Korean government. Two of the six launchers in the system are already in place, but South Korean President Moon Jae In suspended the remaining four on June 8 pending the environmental assessment.

The U.S. missile system meant to defend against North Korea has received strong condemnation from China, which fears the steady extension of U.S. missile defense architecture in the Asia-Pacific. Under the previous administration of President Park Geun Hye, Moon took a hardline stance against the THAAD agreement. But while campaigning, he eased back and said the new administration should decide. Finally, after assuming office, Moon renewed his position of temporarily halting the deployment for an environmental assessment. His decision to halt the rollout came amid intense economic pressure from China. Moon's progressive camp is also interested in decoupling South Korean military power from the United States over the long term and adopting a softer stance toward North Korea.

But North Korea's second test of an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) on July 28 has given Moon less room to maneuver amid a strong U.S. push for a hardline policy against North Korea. On July 29, Moon ordered his aides to start discussions with their U.S. counterparts on deploying the remaining launchers.

The South Korean president is likely to speak with U.S. President Donald Trump in the coming days, and working-level discussions on THAAD have already begun. Moon has emphasized that the THAAD deployment might only be temporary. Theoretically, once the two sides reach an agreement, the United States could deploy the remaining batteries very rapidly given that they are stored nearby. China has condemned the planned completion of the deployment, and it would likely step up economic retaliation against South Korean companies. The United States, meanwhile, is in the midst of tense negotiations with China over enhanced U.N. sanctions on North Korea and is reportedly pushing for a final decision in the coming days.

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