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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Feb. 18)

All News 07:02 February 18, 2020

New THAAD controversy
US should not undermine alliance with Korea

The tricky issue regarding the U.S. deployment of an anti-missile battery in South Korea is likely to resurface as Washington has floated the idea of installing additional launchers here while asking Seoul to fund the construction of a U.S. base for the battery.

This idea is a cause for concern on the part of the host country as it appears to be unrealistic and hard to accept.

A fresh controversy erupted last week when the U.S. Department of the Army's budget proposal for the 2021 fiscal year revealed some details about money set aside for the battery. The proposal said the U.S. earmarked $49 million for the development of a South Korean town where the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery has been deployed.

The outlays are required to build a base, including facilities and infrastructure, for the operation of the anti-missile system in the southeastern town of Seongju. However, the problem is that the U.S. is apparently trying to make Korea pay for the construction. The budget plan states, "The possibility of host nations programs has been addressed." It added: "Funds from host nations programs are available to support this requirement."

Such a U.S. position runs counter to an agreement between the two countries that Washington would foot the bill for building facilities while Seoul would provide the site. How could America attempt to pass the burden on to the South, despite the accord? Some critics speculate that the U.S. might try to use the construction cost issue as a bargaining chip to force the government to agree to greater share of the cost for the upkeep of the 28,500-strong U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) stationed here.

The Trump administration has already invited the ire of South Koreans and the government for making an irrational demand that Seoul pay about $5 billion for the U.S. troop presence this year, five times last year's payment. The two sides are in a tug of war over the defense cost sharing negotiations.

We cannot understand why the Trump administration is engrossed in extorting money from Seoul without valuing the importance of the bilateral alliance. The THAAD battery is designed to address growing missile threats from North Korea. It should not be used as a means for mere financial gain.

Also worrisome is another U.S. idea of deploying more THAAD anti-missile launchers here or moving some of the six launchers deployed up north nearer to Pyeongtaek or other central regions. Vice Adm. John Hill, director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, stressed the need for forward deployment of the battery to increase strategic flexibility on the peninsula.

The U.S. is also making efforts to upgrade the THAAD capability by combining it with its Patriot anti-missile system. In this case, South Korea may be forced into the U.S. global missile defense network, which could trigger a strong backlash from neighboring countries such as China and Russia.

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