President Obama teased a missile shield for South Korea in an interview on Tuesday, a tacit acknowledgement that the North Korean threat is growing more serious.
“One of the things that we have been doing is spending a lot more time positioning our missile development systems, so that even as we try to resolve the underlying problem of nuclear development inside of North Korea, we’re also setting up a shield that can at least block the relatively low-level threats that they’re posing now,” President Obama said in a CBS News interview on Tuesday.
The potential deployment of a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system to South Korea has been discussed for quite some time. The Hill suggests President Obama was speaking somewhat ambiguously to avoid antagonizing China, which has described the THAAD system as a threat to its national security, although in February there were reports Chinese resistance to the idea was softening, as Beijing’s exasperation with the erratic regime in North Korea grew.
Not only are the Chinese getting tired of defending dictator Kim Jong-un, they seem to be acknowledging South Korea’s determination to obtain some protection from North Korean missiles.
The most curious aspect of President Obama’s comments is that THAAD is not really designed to repel “low-level” nuisance threats, and nothing else about the president’s comments portrayed Pyongyang as such a minor irritant. In fact, he called North Korea a “massive challenge” whose leader is “personally irresponsible enough that we don’t want them getting close.”
The president went as far as threatening the Kim regime with what sounded like nuclear annihilation, musing in his CBS interview that “we could, obviously, destroy North Korea with our arsenals,” but were reluctant to do so because of the “humanitarian costs of that” and because North Korea is located “right next door to our vital ally, Republic of Korea.”
There are reports that North Korea is preparing to test a mid-range missile that could hit U.S. assets in Asia and may also be readying another nuclear bomb test before the Workers’ Party congress begins in May.