Should the US help South Korea establish a missile defense system?

The United States is currently considering imposing additional economic sanctions on North Korea following the increasingly belligerent nation's rocket launch earlier this month. South Korean defense officials are expected to ask for more material assistance next week.

Lee Jin-man/AP
A man watches a television news program reporting about North Korea's recent rocket launch at the Seoul Train Station in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday. Under the gaze of armed soldiers, large white trucks streamed across the world's most armed border Thursday as South Korean workers on Thursday began shutting down a jointly run industrial park in North Korea. The South's suspension will end, at least temporarily, the Koreas' last major cooperation project as punishment over Pyongyang's recent rocket launch. The letters read: 'North, Long range missile launch.'

The United States and South Korea will begin discussions as early as next week about the potential deployment of an advanced US missile defense system to defend against an increasingly belligerent North Korea.

An unnamed South Korean defense official told Reuters that the discussions would focus on placing a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) unit in South Korea following North Korea’s rocket launch last weekend.

Analysts say the system would offer South Korea, and the nearly 30,000 American soldiers stationed there, better protection against the North’s growing nuclear challenge than Seoul’s current inadequate missile defenses. It’s designed to intercept and destroy ballistic missiles inside or just outside the atmosphere during their final phase of flight.

But while US military officials have said the THAAD unit was needed in the South, Seoul had been reluctant to openly discuss its deployment. It’s worried about disrupting relations with China, South Korea’s biggest trading partner, which has expressed anger at the imminence of a US missile system so close to its borders.

South Korea and the US have said that if a THAAD were deployed to South Korea, it would be focused solely on the North. But Chinese experts contend that the system has a radar that could penetrate deep into China and threaten its own missile deterrence system.

Aside from deploying the missile defense system, US policymakers are also considering the adoption of a new set of economic sanctions in response to North Korea’s nuclear provocations. Yet as Howard LaFranchi reported for the Monitor earlier this week, experts differ on just how effective unilateral US sanctions can be.

For some, the most effective approach is international sanctions adopted by the United Nations Security Council. That’s because such action would include the participation of China, which is North Korea’s sole benefactor and the country considered to hold the Kim regime’s survival in its hands.

But others see the potential for US sanctions to have considerable impact – particularly measures targeting illicit financial transactions and the North Korean individuals and entities involved in them, as well as the “secondary” financial institutions that facilitate the flow of funds and materials to the North’s nuclear and missile programs.

Both Seoul and Washington said last week’s rocket launch violated UN Security Council resolutions. The council could adopt a new sanctions resolution proposed by the US, Japan, and South Korea by the end of the week.

This report includes material from Reuters.

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