The government of South Korea confirmed Wednesday that it would allow for the installation of four new missile defense launchers, part of a larger U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system designed to protect from a North Korean attack.
Leftist South Korean president Moon Jae-in opposed the further implementation of the THAAD system without further government inspection of, among other priorities, the environmental effect of installing it as a candidate. Following North Korea’s repeated provocations—including launching a missile over northern Japan last week and a sixth nuclear test on Sunday—Moon appeared significantly more comfortable with the presence of the U.S. system over South Korea’s skies.
The South Korean newswire service Yonhap reported Wednesday that Seoul’s Ministry of National Defense confirmed the installation of four more launchers while stressing “the urgency of mobilizing the assets, now stored at a USFK compound in the country, amid growing threats from the unpredictable neighbor.”
Even while approving the new installations—which are likely to irritate neighbors China and Russia—South Korean officials insisted the deployment was “provisional,” as the environmental survey Moon demanded had not yet been completed before North Korea’s alleged hydrogen bomb test this week.
“There is no change in the government’s position to make the final decision on whether the THAAD system will be deployed (in South Korea) after carrying out the general environmental impact assessment of the entire site thoroughly and fairly,” a defense ministry statement read.
Moon had initially suspended THAAD deployment in June, expedited by his predecessor, the conservative Park Geun-hye. Reports suggested that Moon had expressed “extreme shock” over the extent of unreported THAAD deployment in the country following his election in May and has repeatedly suggested dialogue with the communist Kim Jong-un regime, even seeking intervention from Pope Francis on the matter.
Moon has rapidly changed his tune since Sunday, however, following North Korea’s latest nuclear test. The nation’s state newspaper Rodong Sinmun published images on Sunday of Kim allegedly inspecting a nuclear warhead and claimed the bomb tested was a hydrogen fusion weapon—if so, a significant improvement in the nation’s nuclear program. While North Korea claimed to possess a hydrogen bomb last year, seismologists refuted the claim, suggesting that the subsequent earthquake from that nuclear test was too small to have been the product of a pure fusion weapon.
The nuclear test followed a missile test over Japan’s northernmost island, Hokkaido, triggering nuclear alarms all over the region.
U.S. President Donald Trump seized the opportunity to chide Moon for his conciliatory attitude towards North Korea before these tests, tweeting on Sunday, “South Korea is finding, as I have told them, that their talk of appeasement with North Korea will not work, they only understand one thing!” The president has since shelved the idea of dialogue with the Kim regime and instead has begun attempting to rally the international community for another round of sanctions against Pyongyang.
North Korea, meanwhile, has not ceased its daily threats to attack the United States and South Korea. In today’s edition of Rodong Sinmun, a column titled “Reckless Sabre-rattling Precipitating Self-Destruction” threatens to “put a definite end to the U.S. imperialists and south Korean puppet forces’ moves to ignite a nuclear war on the Korean peninsula.”
“The DPRK’s recent successful test of ICBM-ready H-bomb marked a very significant occasion in attaining the final goal of completing its state nuclear force,” the article reads. “The detonation of H-bomb which stunned the world reflects the firm will of the army and people of the DPRK to give telling blows to the invaders and sweep the U.S. off the surface of the earth if the enemies dare to make a preemptive attack.”
Rodong Sinmun also published an article Monday threatening to kill the “scabby sheep” opposing their nuclear program.