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Don’t send the wrong message

June 05,2017
Controversy over the Ministry of National Defense’s allegedly intentional omission of sensitive information from its report to President Moon Jae-in is not likely to subside soon. Although a draft report specified that a total of six launchers for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) missile shield were being held at a U.S. military base in South Korea, the number ended up as two in the ministry’s final briefing to the president.

After a hurried trip to Washington, Chung Eui-yong, head of the National Security Office, said the U.S. government understood our new administration’s position after he fully explained it to U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. But Chung is remaining mum about exactly what was discussed between the two. With less than a month left before a summit between Moon and U.S. President Donald Trump, concerns are growing about the potential impact the controversy may have on the summit.

On Saturday, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said Washington is working transparently in unison with Seoul to defend its ally from North Korea’s nuclear threats. His remarks at the Asia Security Summit in Singapore are aimed at putting the controversy to rest, but they are in fact an expression of his discomfort after watching the unexpected turn of events in South Korea as Thaad deployment has transformed into a domestic issue.

At the Shangri-La Dialogue, Defense Minister Han Min-koo also delivered President Moon’s position on the issue to Mattis by saying that the government’s effort to find the truth behind the omission is a purely domestic decision, not an attempt to overturn the previous government’s decision to deploy Thaad.

But concerns are deepening in South Korea after Moon ordered an investigation into the suspicion that the Defense Ministry concealed the placement of four additional Thaad launchers to avoid a strategic assessment of the missile shield’s environmental impact. If the site undergoes an inspection, then Thaad cannot be deployed within the year as it takes more than a year.

Seoul and Washington agreed to deploy Thaad to prepare for attacks from North Korea. As Pyongyang is expected to install nuclear warheads on its missiles soon, Thaad should be deployed within the year. The new government must recognize that Thaad exists to brace for North Korea’s nuclear attacks. It must end any unnecessary controversy as soon as possible. President Moon must not give the wrong message to Trump in a summit later this month.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 5, Page 30