SEOUL—A U.S. missile-defense system in South Korea that has enraged China got a clear path for a full deployment, as tensions flare up between the two countries.
A battery for the American antimissile system called Thaad—short for Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense—was installed more than six years ago in the heart of South Korea on the site of a former golf course. The deployment came during a rise in North Korean weapons provocations. China, North Korea and Russia loudly opposed Thaad as a security threat.
A complete Thaad rollout was stalled by a South Korean environmental review that was triggered by the fears of local residents living near the base. On Thursday, the review determined that the health risks posed by electromagnetic waves from the Thaad battery were insignificant, according to South Korea’s defense and environment ministries. The Thaad system is designed to shoot down North Korean short- and medium-range missiles, even as they begin a downward trajectory. The system’s radar capabilities also have a wider range than prior missile defenses in South Korea, allowing them to reach into China and Russia. A full Thaad deployment is expected to occur next year.
As the South Korean review unfolded, American military personnel didn’t have daily access to the Thaad base, among other logistical restrictions. The full deployment of Thaad also entails building permanent support facilities to house soldiers and hardware, according to Go Myong-Hyun, a senior fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, a think tank based in Seoul. U.S. Forces Korea, which oversees the roughly 28,500 American military personnel in South Korea, declined to comment. The environmental review began under the administration of left-leaning President Moon Jae-in, who took office weeks after Thaad was installed in May 2017. He immediately questioned whether his conservative predecessor had sought enough public feedback before agreeing to host the antimissile system.
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