Care must be taken to not cause backlash from China
U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) will incorporate a component command of the U.S. Space Force (USSF) by year's-end to tackle potential military provocations from North Korea. It will be the second space command to be established outside the U.S. mainland, following the U.S. Space Forces, Indo-Pacific, launched under the umbrella of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command on Nov. 22.
The U.S. military, in its recently unveiled National Security Strategy, said the launch of the new space command is to realize all-domain integrated deterrence. Another space force will also be set up in the Middle East in December. "Our approach requires the joint force to think, act and operate differently by synchronizing our operations, re-aligning our posture, and advancing our warfighting capabilities," said Adm. John Aquilino, commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, during a ceremony marking the USSF component launch.
The USSF was founded in 2019 with the mission of detecting and tracing air vehicles and conducting space and cyber wars against missile attacks. Subsequently, the U.S. has been stepping up its efforts to host the space command in USFK, proving it is seriously counteracting North Korea's series of launches of ballistic missiles.
On Nov. 18, North Korea fired a Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which can, presumably, reach the U.S. mainland, prompting the U.S. to hasten plans to launch the space command at the USFK. Concerns are growing that the recent move will possibly incorporate USFK into the U.S.-initiated missile defense (MD) system and entangle South Korea in the escalating superpower rivalry between the U.S. and China in the Indo-Pacific area.
In fact, the U.S. noted the creation of the Space Force in 2019, was closely related to the MD system as it is aimed at coping with the new style of "future war" against potential missile offensives from China and Russia. The new MD plan was reminiscent of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), nicknamed the "Star Wars program," which was pursued under former President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.
China has already shown an allergic reaction to the MD system when, for instance, USFK attempted to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in Seongju, North Gyeongsang Province, and when Seoul and Tokyo signed the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA). South Korea, the U.S. and Japan have recently agreed to share information about North Korea's missile and nuclear programs, further alerting China. The South Korean military has been maintaining that USFK's creation of the space command is irrelevant to the MD system.
The Yoon Suk-yeol administration should recognize that the U.S. and Japan have taken different approaches to China from South Korea. China is the largest trade partner for our nation. Yet, Seoul is highly vulnerable to possible retaliations by China as seen in the case of the THAAD deployment. It is time for the Yoon government to adopt a well-conceived policy to tackle the highly sensitive security issue without triggering a backlash from Beijing.