What do the Americans think of THAAD

Protests and skepticism against US missile shield in South Korea

There is little to suggest that an international conflict is erupting in the sleepy town of Soseong-ri these days: In the tranquil parish square, the villagers, mostly honeydew melon farmers in the elderly, come together in a wooden pagoda to chat after work. Rollators are in front of most of the tiled roof houses, the men wear huge straw hats to protect against the glaring spring sun.

On this Wednesday noon, however, dozens of television journalists cavort in the village, several hundred riot police and a few political activists. They paved the kilometer-long access road to Soseong-ri with countless posters and banners: "THAAD out, stop the USA", it says there. Or: "Are you allies or occupiers?"

Missile defense system on a former golf course

On Wednesday night, the US military began installing the controversial THAAD missile defense system in the town, around 250 kilometers south of the state capital, Seoul. Cell phone recordings on the Internet show how six army trucks are smuggling the military cargo through the village under massive police protection.

USA and South Korean authorities create facts

Screaming demonstrators engaged in direct clashes with the emergency services, at least ten people were injured. On Thursday, the police cordoned off a large area of ​​the military area. In front of the last barricade, twenty Buddhists meditate under a tent - a sign of peaceful protest.

"The problem with THAAD is the decision-making process: there was neither an evaluation of the health risks, nor was the population interviewed. Not even parliament voted," says photographer Kim Seong-gwan from the daily Hankyeoreh. The 31-year-old sneaked into the cordoned-off area via mountain graves and beaten paths. He is crouching on a boulder at a height of almost a thousand meters, in the distance you can see a huge green area surrounded by densely wooded mountain slopes, on which a few military trucks drive back and forth. The property is a former luxury golf course that was bought by the South Korean government.

Peaceful protest against the missile defense system

"Unfortunately, there is not much to see yet," says Kim as he looks through his photo opportunities on the camera display. Suddenly a recruit dressed completely in black emerges from the bushes and asks the photojournalist to leave. The two treat each other with respect, but a certain tension cannot be overlooked.

THAAD becomes an election topic

Just a week after the US armed forces handed the property over to the South Korean government, they began the early and unannounced construction work. According to the South Korean Ministry of Defense, an investigation into possible threats to nature and humans, which is required by law, has not yet been completed. "North Korea's nuclear program represents a serious threat to the security of the USA," the Pentagon justified in a statement about the need for the missile defense system.

The early installation is seen primarily as a tactical move by the Americans, after all, in South Korea, early elections are due in less than two weeks. The favorite is the progressive opposition politician Moon Jae-in, who has always been critical, if not categorically negative, of the missile defense system. His election promise is to reconsider the decision about THAAD. In most surveys, the population is roughly equally divided, with the critics slightly outweighing them.

"THAAD primarily serves US interests"

So far, the consequences for South Korea have primarily been of an economic nature: China, which THAAD sees as an encroachment on its national sovereignty, has issued a whole series of retaliatory actions: the Chinese are now not allowed to book organized tours to the country on the Han River, which the Korean tourism industry does broke in massively.

As in Soseong-ri village, many South Koreans distrust the US plans

"THAAD does not offer any military protection for South Korea, after all North Korea can attack us with its short-range missiles, against which the system is powerless," says an activist in a blue functional vest who traveled from Seoul that afternoon. In his opinion, the system primarily serves the US government in order to secure a strategic advantage over China: "We do not want to get into a new conflict zone. THAAD will only further intensify military tensions and the arms race."