The United States has conducted surveys of potential sites in South Korea for deploying its advanced anti-ballistic missile system, saying it does not need permission from Seoul for the controversial deployment.
The United States Forces Korea said in a statement on Thursday that it has conducted site surveys in South Korea to deploy the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense battery (THAAD), but no final decision was made.
The statement indicated that Seoul’s permission for deployment was not required, but THAAD installation would only take place after South Korea had been consulted and notified.
“We are aware of the recent reports regarding a possible THAAD unit being permanently stationed in the Republic of Korea,” the US Forces Korea said. “There are possible site locations in Korea for this system and while informal studies have been conducted to find suitable sites in the event of a possible future deployment, no decisions have been made either to deploy a system or determine where such a system might go.”
The statement did not elaborate on when and where the site surveys had taken place.
“A THAAD unit would provide benefits to the defense of the Republic of Korea against the North Korean missile threat by augmenting the Korean Air and Missile Defense (KAMD) system and US Patriot systems in Korea,” according to the US Forces Korea.
But some analysts argue that THAAD units would not be effective in defending South Korea from the North. Pyongyang has many weapons, including long-range artillery, which the expensive anti-ballistic missile system does not address.
Observers suggest such US weapons buildup in the country will only escalate tension.
“Importing weapons, including THAAD from the US, is likely to increase tensions with China and North Korea,” said Lee Yeon-woo of Sogang University.
“To ordinary South Koreans, THAAD is perceived as a US means to spy on military activity in China so many are worried that South Korea will be exploited by the US in military terms and that this will lead to a fissure in South Korea-China relations,” Yeon-woo said.
The deployment of the US weapons system is strongly opposed by China, which has offered South Korea incentives to block the US move.
Last week, China sent a warning that the potential deployment of the missile system could undermine relations between Seoul and Beijing.
On Friday, North Korea fired 7 rockets in an apparent show of protest against ongoing large-scale US-South Korea military exercises.