US Secretary of Defense James Mattis recently made the Trump administration’s first overseas trip. His destination: South Korea and Japan.
Coming on the heels of Donald Trump’s loud complaints about America’s “freeloading” allies, Mattis was there to assure South Korean and Japanese officials of America’s commitment to the trilateral security alliance between the three countries.
Yet Trump is hardly the only critic of Washington’s military alliances in the region. Civil-society organizations in the region have long complained about their governments’ deference to the United States, from challenging US military bases to warning against policies that could draw their countries into a superpower conflict between Washington and Beijing.
In South Korea, Mattis’s first stop, women demanding genuine human security are at the forefront of the resistance.
Korean Women vs. THAAD
Foremost on the US agenda there is the THAAD missile-defense system, which South Korean President Park Geun-hye agreed to install last summer. According to Simone Chun, a Korean-American policy analyst whose family owns a 100-year-old orchard near Seongju, the missile-defense system will be adjacent to schools, hospitals, farms, and markets. “It will threaten the very economic and social lifeblood of the communities,” she said.
Now, however, Park is being impeached, and leading opposition candidate Moon Jae-in is calling for delaying the decision until the next administration, though not outright opposing THAAD. Meanwhile, Washington and Seoul officials are ratcheting up attention to North Korea’s nuclear threat as a self-evident justification for the missile-defense system.
But the nationwide protests that brought 2 million South Koreans onto the streets calling for Park’s impeachment is also demanding renegotiation of the missile-defense system, which is threatening South Korea’s relations with North Korea and China.
Proponents of THAAD say that it’s needed to intercept North Korean ballistic missiles. But others, such as MIT military analyst Theodore Postol, argue that the system’s ability to deter North Korean missiles is “insignificant.” Rather, Postol explains, THAAD “will definitely be looked upon by China as a significant military provocation by the U.S.” that could trigger military confrontations or war.
South Korean women aren’t buying the argument, either. In fact, they aren’t buying anything from the Lotte Corporation—the country’s largest department store—because the company is negotiating the transfer of its Skyhill Golf Course in Seongju as a deployment site for the THAAD system. Women residents from Seongju and Gimcheon, flanked by local Won Buddhists, have vowed to protest in front of Lotte stores and boycott their products and services until the company rescinds its agreement.