Date of Degree

6-2020

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

M.A.

Program

Political Science

Advisor

Peter Liberman

Subject Categories

Political Science

Keywords

THAAD, South Korea, North Korea nuclear threat, missile technology, alliance, South Korea public opinion

Abstract

On July 8, 2016, the South Korean government announced its decision to deploy the first stages of the U.S.-operated Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) technology in South Korea. Both countries stated that the reason for deployment was to enhance the security of South Korea, the U.S. and their allies in the Asia Pacific region against North Korea’s nuclear and missile provocations. However, a closer look at the timing and events surrounding the deployment poses significant questions over the South Korean government’s decision to deploy a highly controversial and expensive U.S.-operated military technology that had little military and strategic benefit to South Korea. This thesis seeks to understand the factors that ultimately led the South Korean government to deploy the first stages of THAAD and its subsequent decision to impede the deployment of additional stages. The analysis demonstrates that the South Korean government’s decision to deploy THAAD under the Park administration was primarily based on the importance it placed on maintaining the military and strategic alliance with the U.S., thereby using the deployment of the first stages of THAAD in July 2016 as a temporary appeasement measure to repair its relations with the U.S. The decision closely tracked the changes in direct or indirect U.S. pressure to adopt an integrated defensive system to counteract threats by North Korea rather than any significant change in patterns of North Korean nuclear and missile provocation. Such observations were also strongly supported by the lack of significant military or strategic benefit of THAAD to enhance South Korean security against North Korea’s threats. Once the initial stages were deployed, U.S.-South Korea relations improved and the urgency of repairing the alliance subsided, which led the Moon administration to suspend any additional stages of deployment in an effort to minimize further economic repercussions from China, exacerbated security dilemma with North Korea and domestic turmoil and public mistrust.

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