President Trump and his National Security Adviser Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster. Photo: Reuters, Kevin Lamarque

As has been widely discussed in the Chinese and international press, the THAAD missile defense system, recently deployed in South Korea, has other, arguably more important, capabilities in addition to bolstering defenses of South Korea.

Experts note that the US already has the capability to defend against North Korean ballistic missiles and that the true threat to South Korea is from traditional artillery within range of Seoul, for which THAAD would be useless.

But the advanced radar technology in THAAD might in the future be used to neutralize Chinese nuclear deterrent second strike capabilities. Though former top US intelligence official Angelo Codevilla told Asia Times that by itself THAAD’s actual effectiveness vis-à-vis China is marginal at best. Nonetheless its purpose for deployment is clearly to advance broader US strategic goals, not to provide South Korea with free defense.

President Trump apparently didn’t get the memo before he threatened to make South Korea pay for THAAD.

It seems it hasn’t been for lack of his national security advisor HR McMaster trying to advise Trump, but allies of the career military professional say Trump has become disillusioned with briefings. Bloomberg reports that Trump was livid when McMaster tried to clean up after Trump’s misstep on THAAD. The president reportedly screamed at him over the phone after McMaster called South Korea to backtrack on Trump’s threat regarding payment for THAAD.

When China retaliated against the missile defense system’s deployment by targeting Korean businesses, the Korean public started to sway towards support for keeping THAAD. But, if Trump gets his way, it seems that Beijing’s counterproductive move has been one-upped by Trump’s own step backward.

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