President Trump’s envoy for arms control, Marshall Billingslea, was in Seoul on Monday pressuring South Korean officials to host medium-range missiles to counter China.
Citing Russian violations, the US withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in 2019, a Cold War-era treaty with Russia that prohibited the development of medium-range nuclear and ballistic missiles. Since then, Washington has been looking to deploy missiles banned under the INF in Asia.
In an interview with South Korean media before his trip, Billingslea said the purpose of his visit was to discuss “the rapid Chinese build-up of nuclear weapons and ballistic and conventional missiles.” The envoy also said he had “additional intelligence to share with our ally regarding the Chinese programs.”
Shortly after the US pulled out of the INF, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said he would like to see land-based INF-range missiles in Asia “sooner rather than later.” Lee Sang-Hyun, an analyst from the South Korean think tank Sejong Institute, explained to This Week in Asia that South Korea has no interest in hosting these types of missiles.
“South Korea has little appetite for the US deployment of INF-type missiles,” Lee said. He explained that when the US deployed the THAAD defense system to South Korea in 2017, China saw it as a direct threat and retaliated against Seoul with economic measures, effects they are still feeling today.
“THAAD repercussions would pale in comparison with possible retaliations from China against the South’s acceptance of INF-type missiles,” Lee said. Regardless of South Korea’s willingness to accept INF missiles, the deployment would not happen for a long time since the US is still developing land-based capabilities.