On February 3, the U.S. and South Korean defense chiefs met to discuss the two countries’ military alliance. Top on the meeting’s agenda was reaffirming the U.S. plan to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in South Korea. The two defense chiefs announced plans to complete the deployment either by June at the earliest or September at the latest.

Trump’s new defense secretary James Mattis arrived in South Korea on February 2 to meet with its leaders to discuss the deployment of the THAAD missile defense system, the military alliance between the two countries and the growing military tensions on the Korean Peninsula. This was Mattis’ first official overseas visit since taking office as the U.S. Secretary of Defense.

After landing in South Korea, Mattis confirmed U.S.’ commitment to deploying the THAAD missile system — “THAAD is for defense of our allies’ people… and were it not for the provocative behavior of North Korea we would have no need for THAAD out here.” The purpose of his trip appeared to be to assure the beleaguered South Korean government that the U.S. is committed to providing military protection for its allies.

Despite the U.S. government’s resolve to push forward with the THAAD deployment process, the South Korean government has yet to acquire the land that would become the deployment site. Its defense ministry is still in the process of completing a deal with South Korean conglomerate Lotte, which owns the land on which the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) plan to deploy the THAAD battery. Lotte was expected to finalize the deal with the South Korean Defense Ministry by the end of January. On February 3, Lotte’s board met to discuss the land transfer deal, but it did not reach a definitive conclusion by the end of the meeting.

On the same day, residents of Seongju and Gimcheon, which abut the Lotte-owned area designated as the THAAD deployment site, and civil society groups held a press conference in front of a Lotte Hotel in Seoul. “Lotte must reject the deal that would make its land the site for the THAAD deployment,” they said, “And the South Korean Defense Ministry must stop pressuring [Lotte] to complete the deal.”

While raising much hullabaloo about bolstering its defense in South Korea against North Korea’s “provocative” nuclear and missile tests, the U.S. government is not making any effort to reduce its own military provocations against North Korea. Mattis also spoke to South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo about the upcoming Key Resolve Foal Eagle military exercises, set to proceed in less than a month. Both expressed the need to increase the scale of the military exercises aimed at simulating the collapse of North Korea.

One matter left unspoken between the two defense chiefs is the prickly issue of who will bear the burden of the enormous financial cost involved in maintaining continued U.S. military presence in South Korea. During his campaign for presidency last year, Donald Trump argued that South Korea should pay more to keep U.S. troops in the country.

 

By ZoominKorea staff

 

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