North Korean leader Kim Jong-un salutes his troops. Photo: Reuters via KCNA
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un salutes his troops. Photo: Reuters via KCNA

When the US went ahead and started setting up an anti-missile defense system in South Korea on Wednesday, it brought out bottle-throwing protesters, riot police, and a rebuke from the man who wants to be the country’s next president.

Who’d have thought North Korea was supposed to be the adversary?

Washington and Seoul seem to have acted quickly overnight to publicly assure that both governments are in agreement on installation of the so-called THAAD missile defense batteries to counter a threat from North Korea.

South Korean and US national security advisers agreed that the deployment was moving ahead smoothly, South Korea’s presidential office said in a statement cited by Reuters.

The latest picture of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery is without battalions of riot police surrounding it.

A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor (right) is seen in Seongju, South Korea, April 26, 2017. Photo: Lee Jong-hyeon/News1 via Reuters.

Compare the fairly tranquil scene above – the site is a former golf course – with what greeted the arrival of the THAAD batteries below on Wednesday.

A US military vehicle that is a part of the THAAD system arrives in Seongju, South Korea. Photo: Kim Jun-beom/Yonhap via Reuters

According to Reuters, South Korea’s national security adviser, Kim Kwan-jin, and his US counterpart, HR McMaster, also agreed in a phone call they are ready to act against any further provocation from North Korea.

This smoothing of the waters follows criticism on Wednesday from Moon Jae-in, the front runner in South Korea’s May 9 presidential election, about the moves to start setting up THAAD.

Moon’s office in a statement said the next government should be making the decisions on the missile defence system.

No comment from Moon so far today, but that could be because the former human rights lawyer is otherwise occupied. He’s under siege by netizens for saying in a political debate this week that he doesn’t like homosexuals.

Nuclear not

For anyone not aware, North Korea has repeatedly violated United Nations Security Council resolutions that ban its testing of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. It fired off a flurry of missiles this year on trajectories that would have hit US military bases in Japan.

For those keeping count, North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests and the expectation is it’s ready to do another one.

Pyongyang, in the colorful language it favors, has said it’s developing advanced weapons for defense purposes as it’s under threat from US forces and weaponry stationed in South Korea.

Just to make that clear, North Korea’s Youth League has said it will use five million members equipped with nuclear bombs to “mercilessly wipe out” the US and South Korea.

Japan wasn’t mentioned in that particular comment, but the government in Tokyo has started issuing updates on its website to inform the public on what to do if a missile strikes. “Hide” seems to be the overarching message.

The Bunnyman

For some, the seriousness of the threat to Tokyo from North Korean missiles was summed up on April 14.  This is when rock musician Ian McCulloch canceled a show and fled the country citing the risk of war.

As news reports put it at the time, you know you have a problem when the former lead singer for Echo and the Bunnymen hightails it out of town citing a ballistic missile threat.  Fans were not impressed, with one calling McCulloch’s disappearance the birth of chicken rock.

As McCulloch fled Northeast Asia, the US Navy, as well documented, was steaming in.

Nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson is enroute to waters off the Korean Peninsula or may already be there.

The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson under way in the South China Sea on April 9. Photo: US Navy via Reuters

The Vinson weighs about 97,000 tons and reportedly comes with Tomahawk cruise missiles, stealth aircraft and several thousand marines. Quite an armory, but one flaw pointed out is it doesn’t have the ability to shoot down missiles of the type favored by Pyongyang.

Whatever, it’s accompanied by guided-missile destroyers, and a US nuclear submarine, also armed with cruise missiles, that has just docked in South Korea.

Missile envy?

On top of all that, the US did some testing of its own overnight, firing off a long-range missile from California capable of carrying a nuclear weapon that flew 4,200 miles.

That could well bring on an outbreak of missile envy in Pyongyang as the best efforts of leader Kim Jong-un’s military have only managed to fling a projectile a few hundred kilometers.

Still, with such a US armada amassed and seemingly waiting for Kim’s next move, the biting question on the streets of Seoul and Tokyo is just what will the US do if Kim detonates another nuclear weapon underground or fires off some more test missiles?

After all, Washington war planners may be calling the tune, but it’s South Korea and Japan that are in Pyongyang’s missile sights.

Safe to say for Tokyo fans of McCulloch, the former Bunnyman is unlikely to be back anytime soon.

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