Former USFK chief criticizes US pressure on Seoul to accept THAAD system
SEOUL, South Korea — A former U.S. Forces Korea commander has slammed the U.S. government for publicly pressuring South Korea to allow the deployment here of a high-altitude missile defense system.
Ret. Gen. B.B. Bell, speaking at a Heritage Foundation forum Tuesday in Washington, said he supports sending THAAD to South Korea as a defense against North Korean ballistic missiles.
“However, I equally, definitely disapprove of the American administration … talking about and pressing for this publicly as we’ve seen lately in the news media. Our diplomatic behavior, in my view, has been unconscionable,” said Bell, who commanded USFK from 2006-08.
“While I believe that most senior Korean security professionals understand the need for and desire deployment of THAAD, we must recognize that this is a complex issue for the South Korean public. We need to give them some breathing room.”
The Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system can shoot down ballistic missiles with a “hit-to-kill” approach, according the Department of Defense. Interceptors rely on the kinetic energy of the impact.
But South Korea has reacted with concern to the possibility of a THAAD deployment. As late as last week, defense officials in Seoul denied the two allies were even discussing the matter. Earlier this week, however, Defense Minister Han Min-koo voiced support for the system, saying it would be “helpful to our security and defense,” according to Yonhap News.
Many in the South worry that China and Russia would view the system as a threat, and believe the U.S. is pressuring Seoul to take part in a regional missile defense system that includes Japan.
At least two high-ranking U.S. officials have backed a Korea-based THAAD system.
In June, USFK commander Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti said the issue was under consideration, though discussions were in “a very initial stage” and would include close consultations with Seoul.
“It is a U.S. initiative, and in fact, I recommended it as the commander,” media reports quoted him as saying.
Last week, Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work said the U.S. is conducting site surveys for a Korea-based system and was working with the South Korean government on the issue.
“We’ve emphasized to both China and to Russia that these are not strategic anti-ballistic missiles, that … they are essentially designed to address regional threats against both our allies and against U.S. territory,” Work said.
“So we continue to work with the Russians and the Chinese to allay any concerns that they have, but they have both indicated concerns, without question.”
Bell said the U.S. should be publicly pressuring China to exert leverage on Pyongyang to reduce its offensive missile capabilities and end its nuclear weapons program.
“There would be no pressing need for THAAD,” he said. “And I don’t know that the United States is working as effectively with the Chinese as they ought to be.”
For now, Bell said defending against North Korean nuclear threat remains critical.
“This is a military requirement, and people will die by the tens of thousands if we’re not ready,” he said.