Let's think together about national security: The Korea Herald

Protesters at a rally in Seoul against the South Korean government's military policy.
Protesters at a rally in Seoul against the South Korean government's military policy. PHOTO: EPA

In its editorial on Feb 19, the newspaper urges all concerned to act responsibly on security issues. 

Not-in-my-backyard syndrome (NIMBYism)  is everywhere in the world. But in Korea, it is often exacerbated by political and ideological factors, as seen in the cases of the construction of nuclear waste storage facilities and naval bases. 

Usually liberals, civic activists and environmentalists join residents to fan fires of activism against key state projects. 

Sadly, it is very likely that we will witness the familiar scene again — this time over the planned deployment of the advanced US missile defence system, which aims to deter North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats.

Now half a dozen candidate locations for THAAD or Terminal High Altitude Area Defence are mentioned by the news media. (The THAAD is an advance US missile defence system, which can intercept and destroy ballistic missiles during their final phase of flight) 

But the reports are not based on official government announcements but on speculation based on factors like the existence of US military units or North Korea’s missile capabilities. 

Nevertheless, politicians and civic groups in the localities mentioned as candidate sites for the THAAD battery are reacting sensitively. 

They cite, among other things, possible health hazards from radio waves emitted by its radar, interference with air travel and impact on the local real estate market. 

Not surprisingly, politicians, ruling and opposition alike — stand on the forefront of the opposition. 

The mayor of Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, the new home base of key US military units, said that from the perspective of national security, he agreed with the need to deploy the THAAD battery in the country. 

“But 460,000 Pyeongtaek citizens and I firmly oppose the city being mentioned as a candidate site,” he said. It would have been a little more persuasive had he opposed the deployment of the THAAD battery itself, like many ill-advised opposition party members do.

There are signs that, as in the similar past cases, rumourmongers may be enjoying a heyday on the Internet and social media. Some already claimed that exposure to THAAD radio waves causes brain cancer and leukaemia and can even melt down human bodies. 

Therefore, the US military stations THAAD batteries only where there are no US soldiers, so go the rumours. 

Their next step will be fanning anti-American sentiment. 

Considering the NIMBY syndrome, the issue could not come at a worse time: the general election is less than two months away, and few candidates are willing to endorse the plan knowing that it would threaten their chances of election. 

But this is a matter of death and life for the nation, and it is truly sad we don’t have politicians who prioritise national interests over their own local interests, even in the ruling party. 

Representative Joo Ho Young of the ruling Saenuri Party, a three-term lawmaker whose constituency is in Daegu, one of the potential sites mentioned in the media,  showed how illogical he could be: 

He said that Daegu was too far away from the Seoul metropolitan area and THAAD in the city will not be effective in protecting the capital area. 

Then Representative Won Yoo Chul, the Saenuri Party’s floor leader, showcased how political leaders of this country could compromise their commitment to national security for their shortsighted political gains. 

Mr Won, who was elected in Pyeongtaek, called on the Park administration to arm the South Korean military with nuclear weapons to counter North Korea’s nuclear threat. 

This hardliner of course backed the deployment of THAAD, until he got the news that Pyeongtaek was being mentioned as one of the candidate locations. 

Now he says that he does not understand why Pyeongtaek is mentioned. 

This is not be something one should expect from the mouth of a ruling party leader who once headed the National Defence Committee of the National Assembly.

These narrow sighted, cowardly, selfish politicians are fueling the misguided NIMBY syndrome. 

* The Korea Herald is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 22 newspapers.