By Yoo Seungki
SEOUL, July 26 (Xinhua) -- Decision between Seoul and Washington to deploy Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) to South Korean soil caused an outcry from college students as they held a rally in central Seoul to block the war risks-escalating U.S. weapons system from being installed in their homeland.
About 20 students from six South Korean prestigious universities, including Korea University, Kyung Hee University, Sungkyunkwan University, Yonsei University, Chung-Ang University and Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, gathered in Gwanghwamun in central Seoul on Tuesday.
The student group, named Nationwide Students' March, held a press conference, saying the United States and South Korea are heightening tensions in the Northeast Asian region, which have already been escalated with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK)'s nuclear and missile tests, with the THAAD deployment decision.
Lee Jowoon, 24, one of the students joining the rally, told Xinhua that the U.S. missile defense system will raise war risks in his country as the deployment would trigger arms race in the region.
"Basically, I oppose any introduction of (U.S.) weapons system (to my home country). the deployment of THAAD will encourage North Korea (DPRK) to produce more nuclear weapons. In the end, it will raise war risks," said Lee.
Seoul and Washington surprisingly announced the agreement earlier this month to install one THAAD battery in Seongju, a county some 250 km southeast of the capital city, by the end of next year. It brought on strong oppositions from across the nation, especially enraging villagers living in the site and its adjacent areas.
The THAAD battery, consisting of six mobile launchers, 48 interceptors, X-band radar and fire and control unit, exceeds South Korea's actual needs of defense against the DPRK's nuclear and missile threats as the AN/TPY-2 radar can range Chinese and Russian territories.
China has expressed strong dissatisfaction with and resolute opposition to the THAAD deployment in South Korean territory as it damaged China's security interests and broke a strategic balance in the region, while Russia indicated a military response by deploying a missile unit in the Far Eastern region.
Seoul has claimed that it would adopt the terminal mode radar with a detectable range of 600-800 km, but it can be converted at any time into a forward-based mode that can spot missiles at least 2,000 km. The two modes can be changed into each other as they use the same hardware, and it takes about eight hours to convert. The enhanced THAAD radar allegedly doesn't even need any conversion.
The THAAD battery to be installed in South Korea will be operated by U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), which means Seoul military has no right to intervene in the operation. Washington will try to share military intelligence from the THAAD radar with the U.S. Pacific command to supervise China and Russia as well as the DPRK.
The THAAD deployment means South Korea joining the U.S. missile defense program, becoming a handy tool of the U.S. military operation. The U.S. anti-missile program is a core part of its Pivot-to-Asia strategy to increase military presence in the Asia-Pacific and beyond.
"Though (South Korea's) defense ministry denied its entrance into the U.S. missile defense system, the THAAD deployment actually means becoming a part of it. The THAAD system can be shared by the U.S. military at any time," said the student.
Washington doesn't even care about the safety of South Korean people. The THAAD battery would be sited at the southeastern county, which means the exclusion of capital Seoul and its adjacent areas from a protection coverage as THAAD interceptors have a maximum range of less than 200 km.
The THAAD battery is incapable of intercepting DPRK missiles. THAAD is designed to shoot down missiles at an altitude of 40-150 km, while DPRK's rockets fly at a lower altitude of 20-30 km.
The student activist told Xinhua that relevant parties should turn to dialogue to ease tensions and reduce war risks in the region. "If denuclearization (on the Korean peninsula) is a ultimate goal, (his country) should select dialogue rather than THAAD deployment, which will make dialogue much harder. Blocking the THAAD deployment can be a first step toward dialogue," said Lee.