Moving Forward With THAAD

Why Unpopular Deterrence Is Still Necessary

A THAAD rocket is tested in Alaska, July 2017. Leah Garton / Missile Defense Agency / Reuters

Tempers in North Korea and the United States are rising amid speculation that Pyongyang has successfully fitted a miniaturized nuclear warhead onto one of its missiles. And now the Trump administration has accelerated its deployment of a missile defense system in South Korea, known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), which is meant to protect both U.S. forces in Asia and American allies in South Korea and Japan from a North Korean attack.

Yet in contrast to U.S.-led missile defense projects in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, THAAD is not particularly welcome in South Korea. The country’s president, Moon Jae-in, has sent mixed signals about the deployment and many of his people are actively opposed to it. In fact, South Koreans have protested en masse against THAAD, with many concerned that it will further destabilize the region. China is angry, claiming that the missile defense radar system peers into its territory and poses a military threat. It has even initiated economic sanctions against South Korea in response. Russia has likewise voiced strong objections, just as it has done over NATO’s missile defense system in Europe. Rather than making the region more secure, it appears that THAAD could lead to a further escalation in tensions.

Paradoxically, the United States has traditionally viewed its missile defense systems as a means of encouraging stability by deterring revisionist states from attacking U.S. allies. The U.S. missile defense policy converged neatly with the Obama administration’s distaste of using military force. The idea was that if vulnerable U.S. allies had effective defenses, the United States would not need to carry out pre-emptive strikes against the source of a missile threat. And so the administration closely co-operated with Israel on the development and funding of the Arrow-3 system, which was intended to address a potential nuclear threat from Iran. In contrast to U.S.-led missile defense projects in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, THAAD is

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