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The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system is one of the best defense technologies in the world capable of engaging both other missiles and enemy targets. The United States’ innovation is key to the protection of homeland and allies from volatile states, such as Iran and North Korea. Due to its capabilities, it has become an urgent topic for discussion with the Trump administration seeking to send THAAD batteries to allied states, including South Korea. While earlier in the campaign Trump rhetorically indicated that South Korea had to pay for the THAAD, the policy has changed. The fear of a nuclear-armed North Korea has seen Trump administration seek to install six THAAD batteries without asking for any compensation. The strategy has been developed in response to the North Korean missile threat to the United States of America. However, THAAD is not welcome in South Korea, the public does not see the merit of the policy, and the President has demanded a halt in the system deployment. The paper will provide an overview of Trump administration decisions in regard to the THAAD system, including the debate over the deployment in South Korea and the response of China.

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Trump foreign policy agenda on the THAAD

Trump’s administration foreign policy seeks to keep the United States and its allies in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia fully protected. The policy has been active since the Bush administration and has seen the United States allow the sale and deployment of powerful weapons and systems overseas. One such system is THAAD with several batteries in Saudi Arabia, Europe, and now South Korea. Therefore, the United States has maintained a defense policy that favors the security of its major allies in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, especially such states as South Korea and Japan. The idea behind the continued deployments of THAAD is strategic for the U.S. and seeks to protect its economic and military allies (Bermant and Sutyagin). As Trump has been establishing his powers as a President, he has become more aggressive with the deployment of the THAAD system all over the continent with approvals for Saudi Arabia to purchase the system to protect itself against the aggression of Iran. The United States is rushing to deploy the missile defense system in South Korea. The latest missile tests by North Korea and its rhetoric regarding an imminent attack on the U.S. have led to an aggressive push by the U.S. to deploy the batteries.

Additionally, Trump’s policy on the deployment of THAAD is seen as an attempt to force China to take a more direct role in the North Korean missile program crisis. China is a long-term ally of North Korea and its main trade partner. The United States and specifically the Trump administration are keen to explore the relationship and have North Korea shut down its nuclear missile programs. Additionally, as the leader of the free world, the USA strives to force the country to implement more civil rights. The deployment, which does not reflect well on China’s strength in Asia, is more of a political statement. If China is not willing to manage the region, the United States will do what needs to be done. THAAD has faced a backlash in South Korea with new President Bank Moon and the people of South Korea speaking openly against the deployment (Lee). Therefore, the Trump policy on the THAAD system and attitude towards its global implementation become a key issue in global politics, especially in terms of the relationship of Asian nations and the United States.

Cabinet officer supporting THAAD deployment

The United States Secretary of Defense retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis is a major supporter of THAAD. General James Mattis took a trip to South Korea to demonstrate his support of the policy. He reinstated Washington’s willingness to deploy the advanced missile defense system to keep the Korean Peninsula safe from the North Korean threat. He is the first cabinet minister to make an overseas trip. General Mattis’s trip to the country is seen as an attempt to mediate the fallout after Trump’s earlier statements that South Korea would have to pay for the THAAD systems (Harrison).

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Congress involvement in THAAD deployment

President Trump has the power to order the deployment of the THAAD batteries without seeking the approval of Congress. However, traditionally the United States Congress has supported the sale and deployment of the United States military equipment to allied countries as a way to protect its allies and the United States. The U.S. foreign policy and treatment of major allies, including Japan and South Korea, has remained favorable. So far, the United States Congress has remained supportive and non-opposing to the foreign deployment of the THAAD systems to allied countries.

Interest groups involved in THAAD policy

Trump’s new attitude towards the deployment of the THAAD system to the Korean Peninsula has caused concerns among interest groups in South Korea. South Korea has a new leader in President Moon, a human rights lawyer who has previously opposed the implementation of the THAAD system. South Korean human rights, civil rights, trade, and political groups are critical of the U.S. foreign policy and the deployment of the THAAD missiles in South Korea. Trade groups fear unnecessary tension between South Korea and China, which are trade partners and neighbors. They fear that China will respond by instating economic limitations on South Korean goods, including cosmetics. Reports have also surfaced that China has started to block South Korean music, television media, and streaming services in response to the issue (Rosen).

Political and human rights groups in South Korea fear that the deployment would increase the tension and make the regions where the weapons are deployed a target for North Korean aggression. Overall, groups in South Korea have become very agitated by the U.S. foreign policy and the deployment of the THAAD batteries in the country. United States interest groups favor domestic security and human rights and are less concerned with the new policy and Trump’s attitude towards THAAD.

THAAD, U.S. Korean foreign policy and deployments history

The military and economic relationships between the United States and South Korean people can be traced back to the Second World war that established the Capitalist South and the Communist North. The United States became a major ally of the South Korean people and a major source of military strength for South Koreans against China and the volatile North Korea. The military cooperation goes back to the 1950’s when the communist North Korea attacked the Republic of South Korea. The United Nations gathered 16 counties from the West to defend the country from the aggressive actions of its neighbor. The United States took the central role in defense of South Korea as the Cold War intensified and the need to defend democracy overseas increased. China joined the conflict in 1951, which almost led to the Third World War. In 1953, an armistice was concluded, and a treaty was signed that established South Korea as a republic embracing capitalism and democratic values. North Korea remained under an autocratic rule (U.S. Relations with the Republic of Korea).

After the conclusion of the military conflict, the United States and South Korea signed the Mutual Defense Treaty. The two countries have enjoyed economic and military relations. On the other hand, the relations with China have likewise remained strong with China. The latter country opposes U.S. military deployment in South Korea, which the United States says is needed to defend against the unstable North Korean state. However, Trump indicated that the United States would review the KORUS FTA with South Korea, creating friction between the two countries. In addition, Trump is trying to use the Mutual Defense Treaty of 1953 to force South Koreans to accept the deployment of more THAAD batteries and install them on the borders with North Korea and China. Normally, South Koreans agree with U.S. military presence, but THAAD is likely to cause negative political, military, and economic reactions from China, a major partner of both countries on the peninsula. The policy which remained stable under the Obama administration is now subject to scrutiny.

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Evaluation of the foreign policy: Mutual defense treaty: THAAD

Mutual Defense Treaty is a military and political treaty enabling the United States to deploy troops and military hardware to defend allies, such as South Korea and Japan, as well as itself. The Mutual Defense Treaty has remained the only reason why volatile North Korea has not been able to attack the South. The United States already has warships, fleet carriers, and submarines around the Korean Peninsula. Since 1953, the United States has maintained military troops in South Korea. Therefore, the policy has been around for over six decades (Porter).

The U.S. foreign policy towards South Korea and the Korean peninsula has remained stable until the new Moon government in South Korea and Trump’s take-over in the United States. While Trump had indicated South Korea would pay for the THAAD, the United States is now pressuring the South to accept more THAAD batteries for free. The U.S. is concerned about North Korean missile tests, which the government claims can reach the continental United States. However, President Moon’s government and China are against the deployment of THAAD for various reasons. The batteries may increase the economic, social, and political tensions between South Korea and China, who are major trade partners (Harrison). The Moon government is aiming to reduce the tension with their northern neighbor, but the deployment of THAAD is likely to make that impossible. Finally, Koreans in rural areas where THAAD will be deployed fear that it will make their communities a target for missiles.

The Mutual Defense Treaty and subsequent THAAD deployment are key to the security of Japan and South Korea. North Korea is volatile and has launched several missiles. Additionally, it claims to havedeveloped nuclear warheads. THAAD is a good response to the unstable leadership in North Korea and China’s unwillingness to control North military advancement, the threat to South Korea, and the abuse of human rights (Klingner). Overall, the United States should maintain a positive military and trade relations with its partners including Japan and South Korea.

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Conclusion

The United States foreign policy traditionally protects the U.S. and its allies from volatile states, such as Iran and North Korea. The foreign policy is in line with the democratic philosophy of the country and the Mutual Defense Treaty with South Korea. THAAD is a powerful system that can detect and shoot down enemy missiles. The deployment of the system in the South is aimed to protect South Korea, Japan, and the U.S. from North Korean missiles. However, China feels that THAAD intimidates its military strength and position in the region. As an outcome, it has applied political, social, and economic pressure on the South, which is also under pressure to accept more THAAD batteries from the U.S. It is critical for the South Korean people and government to allow THAAD, because the threat from North Korea dictatorial regime becomes more pertinent every day. Overall, the U.S. foreign policy has continued to be governed by its democratic principles.