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This topic intro is also covered in more detail in this video.
The September-October Public Forum resolution is, “Resolved: Deployment of anti-missile systems is in South Korea’s best interest.”
In this essay, I will review some important background information and preview some Pro and Con arguments.. In future essays, I will discuss the terms of the resolution, discuss the Pro and Con arguments in more detail.
Most (see the terms section below) of your debates will be about the deployment of missile defense on the Korean peninsula, so this first part of this essay will cover some critical background information related to that.
A Quick Tour – -History to the Present
The Korean peninsula has been divided between two countries – North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)) and South Korea (Republic of Korea (ROK)) – since 1953 when the two sides reached an armistice agreement to stop the fighting. The armistice agreement did not end the war, rather it essentially established a truce and divided the North and South on the 38th parallel, approximately 30 miles from South Korea’s capital city of Seoul. Though this truce has held since 1953, the two countries are technically at war.
The Korean war began in 1951 when North Korea, backed by both Russia and China, invaded South Korea. The US joined the UN in repelling the attack, but it did so at a tremendous cost both to the lives of its own soldiers ( ) and North Korean civilians.
While the North was clearly the aggressors in this case, North Koreans are taught that the US was the aggressor. While this is not the case, the US and other UN nations did engage in a massive bombing campaign in order to win the war. This bombing included the use of napalm and killed close to 10% of North Korea’s population. After the war, the armistice agreement blocked travel between the North and the South, permanently separating many families forever. So, regardless of whose ‘fault’ it was, it is not difficult to see why the there is animosity in North Korea to the United States.
This general anti-American sentiment is compounded by the fact that a family dynasty rules North Korea – a three generation dynasty consisting of
Although only 30 years old, Kim jong-un is currently the “Supreme Leader” of North Korea.
Kim is always in an internal struggle to maintain his power for a number of reasons –
(1) Although the North Korean economy has improved a bit recently, the DPRK’s economy is very small – approximately the size of the economies of Lexington, KY and Portland, Oregon. There is often a shortage of food and other resources, leaving the North to face significant famines in recent history. This is compounded by the need to significant significant resources (approximately 25% of the economy) into the military. These conditions can obviously produce a situation where the population is unsatisfied.
(2) There is substantial international pressure against the regime. There is military pressure applied by the United States and its allies, as well as economic pressure in the form of sanctions – financial penalties that limit the North’s ability to trade. These sanctions weaken the economy, creating more pressure against the regime.
(3) There is internal political jockeying to try to establish leadership both within the dynasty and to overthrow the dynasty, though the former is more significant than the latter.
Of course, even absent these motivations, the DPRK is going to develop military capabilities to defend itself, but given the internal political weakness and the country’s economic problems, Kim has additional motivation to build up its military in order to rally political support for himself by engaging in full throttle military rhetoric against the United States. This nationalist, anti-Americanism both serves to strengthen his own political base and enables Kim to engage in negotiations from a perspective of strength, often enabling him to extract concessions, including food aid, from those involved in the negotiations.
So, to recap, so far we’ve identified two reasons that North Korea is building up strong military forces, including ballistic missiles with attached nuclear biological and chemical warheads —
(a) To rally political support (b) to defend itself.
Any country will seek military forces to defend itself, but North Korea has particular reasons to be concerned. Why? Because the North views the US as an aggressor and fears that the US will topple its regime (In 2003, George Bush referred to the DPRK as being part of the “axis of evil” and recently the Trump administration has suggested toppling Kim. And the US has toppled regimes that have not had weapons of mass destruction (WMDS, Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical (NBC)) weapons – Libya (where the US first made a deal to induce them to giving up their nuclear weapons before toppling them) and Iraq. The US has not attacked Iran, a country that has nuclear weapons.
So, all experts agree that the North is developing these weapons at least partially to defend itself, and most agree they will never given them up.
Of course, there may be reasons beyond political and defensive rationales for the DPRK to acquire WMDs –they may want to attack and win a war. They may want to attack North Korea to unify the Korean peninsula, for example.. They may want to attack (or at least threaten to attack) the US in order to drive it out of the South (making it easier for the North to attack the South). The fear of North Korea having weapons for offensive purposes is what drives the debate about the need for missile defense.
Over the last 30 years, North Korea has been developing short-range ballistic missiles (SRMBs, <1000KM), medium range ballistic missiles (MRBMs, 1,000-3,000 KMs), intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBMS, <5, 5000 KM, and intercontinental ballistics missiles (ICMBS, >5, 5500 ballistic missiles) In July 2017, the North successfully tested its first ICBM. The first one had the capability to hit Alaska and the second one likely has the capability to hit the East Coast of the US (New York, Washington, DC). These ICBM tests have sort of “freaked out” the political establishment in Washington, with Trump threatening to unleash “fire and fury” (nuclear weapons?) on the DPRK.
Although the North’s development of these weapons is obviously unsettling, the threat is really very minimal. First, the DPRK has not yet been able to attach a NBC warhead to these weapons. Second, there is no high degree of confidence that even if they did that they would be able to successfully target one in the US. Third, and most significantly, if the North did attack the US, the US would simply obliterate North Korea. This would come at a tremendous loss of life (in North Korea, South Korea, and Japan), but the US would pulverize the regime, creating significant deterrence against any North Korean attack on the US and its allies. As q quick point of comparison, the US has approximately 4,000 nuclear weapons and the DPRK has somewhere between 15 and 60. Fourth, there is always the possibility that the US would be able to intercept and shoot-down the missiles with its missile defense systems.
The desire to improve missile defense protection in South Korea, and other motivations that will be discussed shortly, led the US to push for the development of Terminal High Area Altitude Defense (THAAD) in South Korea. Initially in the spring, the US had some success and was able to convince the ROK to support the deployment of two THAAD interceptors in the southern part of South Korea (6 interceptors constitute a full battery). The US did this when there was a conservative president in South Korea, but when this conservative President(Park) was impeached on corruption charges in April and a liberal President (Moon) won a subsequent election in May, the Trump administration had difficulty convincing him to support the full deployment of the battery. Initially, Moon paused the deployment of the remaining four interceptors that would make up the battery by conducting an “environmental review.” After the second ICBM test, however, Moon agreed to deploy (at least temporarily) the rest of the battery. The details of that deployment are now (August 21st) being worked out.
Give the arguable North Korean threat (the North is expanding its military and regularly threatens to attack both the ROK and the US), you may be wondering why Moon has been reluctant to complete the deployment of the battery.
Well, there are a number of reasons.
One, THAAD would really play a very limited role in the protection of South Korea? Why? Because THAAD is deployed in the South and does not protect Seoul. Seoul is the capital city of South Korea and it is home to 25 million people, approximately half of the country’s population, so it would provide no protection to Seoul. And, even if the location of THAAD was moved (or if additional batteries were added) it would not provide any significant protection to Seoul because Seoul would be attacked through an invasion of a 1.6 million person North Korean army and rockets and cannons on North Korea’s border that would be shot from more than 11,000 pieces of North Korean artillery. Missile defense does nothing to ward of any of the actual threats to Seoul.
Given this limitation, why does the US want to deploy THAAD in South Korea? There are a few reasons. First, in the event of a war, the US would need to be able to relocate many of the 50,000 troops it has stationed in Japan to South Korea and they would enter in ports in the southern part of the country. Why would they do this? Because right now the US only has 25,000 troops stationed in the ROK and most of those troops are stationed in Seoul or north of Seoul (between Seoul and the DPRK border). In the event of a war, those troops would be slaughtered. Why? Because they exist only to function as a tripwire that forces US involvement (if 20” thousandish” US soldiers were killed there would be substantial political pressure to become involved in the war) and they could, at best, only slow down the advancement of a 1.6 million person North Korean army (The ROK also has 600,000 troops that would participate in the fighting). In order to win the war, it would be important for the US to be able to protect those southern areas of South Korea from a WMD attack so that it could redeploy reinforcements). Second, since many ROK troops are deployed below Seoul it is important to protect both the troops and South Korean airfields to buy time to take out all of the artillery the North has deployed on the border (experts estimate this would take two weeks). So, while THAAD deployment in the South would not likely protect the ROK’s main popular center, it could provide critical protection needed to to enable military victory.
Third, beyond support THAAD could provide to support war fighting, it also has immediate benefits to the US. Since Japan is already deploying THAAD and the US has other missile defense systems on its ships in the region, deploying THAAD in South Korea could help the US developing an interlocking missile defense system in Asia that could generally enhance the protection of its forward deployed forces. Other advocates argue this would support the development of “trilateral defense cooperation” between the US, Japan, and South Korea, which would generally increase deterrence in the region. Others take this deterrence argument farther, contending that we need to contain the rise of China. Fourth, agreement between the US and South Korea on THAAD could generally enhance the US-ROK security alliance, strengthening deterrence and reducing the chance that South Korea will acquire its own nuclear weapons. So, even if THAAD would not play a significant role in generally enhancing deterrence in the region.
Fifth, there is an argument to be made that the improve THAAD radars (both in terms of quality and location of deployment) means that the US could more quickly detect a North Korean ICBM launch targeted at the US.. Although THAAD cannot intercept ICBMS (ICBMS reentry speeds are too fast), the US has missile interceptors at Fort Greeley, Alaska, and the argument is that those interceptors would be more likely to shoot down a missile if they have more advanced warning and that the THADD interceptors could quickly relay any detection of a North Korean launch to Fort Greeley (think how quickly you can instant message someone half way around the world). THAAD deployment in South Korean indirectly works to protect the US.
Given these benefits, why is the South still reluctant to support full, long-term deployment?
First, President Moon, a liberal, ran on a platform of trying to improve ties with North Korea and reduce tensions. In the past, this was referred to as a “Sunshine Policy.” The North’s opposition to THAAD complicates diplomatic efforts on the peninsula (it is easy to find evidence that says this).
Second, China is adamantly opposed to THAAD. Why? Because it fears the radars can reach deeper into China to detect its own missile launches and because it fears the trilateral security alliance the US is attempting to develop in East Asia. As a result of THAAD deployment, China has retaliated economy against South Korea, reducing the purchases of automobiles, shuttering South Korean brand Lotte stores, and substantially restricting the ability of tour groups to travel to South Korea. This has hurt South Korea’s economy and perturbed its relations with China.
So, Moon is in a tough spot – He’s getting pressure from Trump to support full THAAD deployment, he needs the US military to help defend the South, he recognizes THAAD has some benefits, but he also knows it undermines diplomacy with the North and alienates China.
Though less significant, there is also some political opposition to THAAD that centers around claims that radiation from THAAD causes health harms and hurts the environment. Some debate camps have tried to make these arguments out to more than they are, and people will make these arguments on the Con, but they are really not very good and we have strong answers to them in our files.
You may, of course, be wondering how any country could oppose a defense system. Certainly countries are going to fear other countries developing missiles, but why are they going to fear/be opposed to missile defense. The reason is quite simple – missile defense undermines mutually assured destruction (MAD).
MAD is the foundation of nuclear deterrence – the idea that country A will not attack country B because if it does country B will retaliate and wipe it out. But think about it – what if country A has missile defense? Well, then country B will fear that country A will attack it because it will not be vulnerable to retaliation – missile defense will intercept country B’s missiles….So, in this way missile defense undermines deterrence.
To contextualize this in terms of Asia, consider China’s reaction to THAAD. China fears THAAD will be able to get faster data on any Chinese ballistic missile launch. China isn’t necessarily opposed to the US getting this data because they want to attack the US, but they may be opposed to it because they fear the US may want to attack China and could avoid China’s retaliation by making it more likely that it can intercept its missiles. Since this would undermine deterrence, China may attempt to compensate for the insecurity by building even more missiles, reducing the chances of a successful intercept.
Similarly, since the North fears that the US may try to overthrow the regime, they may fear that US missile defense deployments would enable a US/ROK strike on the North while limiting the impact of retaliation. So while missile defense is a defensive system, other countries do have reason to fear it.
It is also important to point out in this introductory essay that while I have discussed missile defense in the context of THAAD that there are other missile defense systems – K-SAM, Korean Aegis systems, PATRIOT (PAC-2, PAC-3) systems that are largely controlled by South Korea. These missile defense systems are not controversial, as they are less intertwined with US missile defense systems and they do not have capabilities against Chinese missiles (or any missiles with WMDS). As a result, most (or all) of your debates will be over THAAD).
After reading this far into this essay, I hope you can see where the topic is headed.
Pro teams will be advancing arguments about the need to protect South Korea from incoming North Korean missiles, the importance of US-South Korea relations, and the importance of US trilateral security cooperation in the region. The latter may include arguments about allied assurances and they need to contain China. I think the “North Korean threat” argument will be more popular in novice debates than varsity debates simply because I think it is hard to win that there is a significant risk that the North will actually strike the South and that missile defense would even do much to protect it in the event of a war. That said, of course, the American news media seem to have conditioned your average person to believe that Kim is a madman and a huge threat and these judges will be part of the pool….
Offensive arguments for Con teams are more limited and will likely focus on thee things – how THAAD works to undermine diplomacy, the economic retaliation from China that is undermining the Korean economy., and the potential “security dilemma” created by missile defense – countries will develop more weapons to try to protect MAD. They may also make some of these bad health and environment arguments.
In the next two essays, I look more closely at how the topic will develop. First there is a focus on the wording of the resolution and what that means for your arguments. Second, there is a focus on some of the key offensive arguments on both sides and what that means for developing strategic Pro and Con cases.