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Korean Peninsula On The Brink Of War

30.11.2017 00:44

Yuri Alekseev, political scientist

The recent missile tests by North Korea – this time involving the launch of a new advance Hwasong-15 missile – is indeed a blatant violation of  the United Nations Security Council resolutions, as claimed by the United States.

The actions of Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea (DPRK), which has previously demonstrated considerable restraint and refrained from carrying out missile launches and nuclear tests, caused a storm of protest from world capitals. Seul is now speaking about the “inevitability” of severe sanctions against DPRK, while Tokyo has added to the list of its concerns a possible nuclear, chemical or biological attack. The UN Security Council convenes an emergency meeting and the US State Department decides who is to blame – unsurprisingly, Russia and Iran, who were accused of not taking sufficient precautions to discourage North Korea from this behaviour.

However, the actions of DPRK have caused a sharp response from Moscow – no less sharp than in Washington. The Russian President’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov condemned the missile launch, calling it "a provocative action that further increase tension”. “The beginning of the crisis settlement is being postponed for a substantial period," said the Russian official.

With tensions rising it is easy to forget that Russia has issued numerous warnings in an attempt to prevent the escalation. The last indication of alarm was voiced in Seul in the end of October by the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister and top negotiator on North Korea nuclear issue Igor Morgulov. Speaking at a session of the Valdai Discussion Club Morgulov attempted to persuade US, South Korea and Japan that the joint military exercises Vigilant Ace 18 planned for 4-8th December must be postponed.

His attempt did not succeed. During the discussion the South Korean representatives met Morgulov’s advice with irony and condescension. Seul has put its trust in the US support in settling the North Korean crisis satisfied by Donald Trump’s promise to begin a military operation against DPRK only with South Korea’s permission.

In fact, the US does not need such permission. Having both South Korea and Japan under firm US influence, the American President may dictate his will to Seul and Tokyo without fear of disobedience. Seul, however, has considered asking the US to cancel the exercises, but the State Department declared that cancelling the exercises would not be equivalent to the cessation of DPRK nuclear provocations. The joint Russian-Chinese plan for a step-by-step settlement was also rejected.

So, who is responsible for the new escalation around the North Korea nuclear crisis, DPRK or US? Or, maybe, China and Russia? South Korea and Japan? The answer is obvious. Only the State Department and the White House are constantly shifting their positions.

Washington incessantly repeats that the Vigiliant Ace exercises are annual and exclusively defensive. The official goals and the nature of the exercises paint another picture.

The participants openly claim that the main goal of Vigilant Ace is suppression of the aggressive foreign policy of DPRK, neutralising its defensive capabilities, destroying its main nuclear facilities and objects of critical infrastructure. The hype around the military drills was supported by the Japanese, American and Korea media, who stressed the scale and unprecedented character of this years’s exercises, revealing its true nature – a military provocation.

How would North Korea react to these circumstances? Evidently, by another missile launch or a nuclear test. It doesn’t take much to predict this.

If we take an analytical, impassive approach to the situation, we might achieve a clearer understanding and avoid apocalyptic conclusions.

First, the nature of the exercises is not as unprecedented as claimed by US and, simultaneously, North Korea. It is true that this year not only the US and South Korea Air Force but also independent units of the Navy and the Marines will participate in the exercises. It was also reported that the Japanese Self Defense Forces could also take part in the drills. It is true that the exercises will include complex training missions testing the allies’ ability to react to a sharp escalation of the North Korean crisis. This means that troops from the adjacent air bases will be deployed to Korea, including six F-22 Raptor fighters and possibly, for the first time, four F-35A fighter-bombers stationed at the Kadena air base.

According to North Korea’s assessments, up to 230 aircrafts, including combat, transport, reconnaissance and support planes will be deployed in the region, while the number of troops engaged in the exercises will reach 12,000 Navy servicemen and Marines. The troops will practice not only transfer and deployment but also combat patrols, interception, air strikes, aerial refueling, aerial reconnaissance, air transfer of troops and vehicles, air and sea landings.

At fist sight, the scale is impressive. The numbers of the troops are especially striking. However, they were roughly the same even in the 1980-s and 1990-s, not mentioning the drills that were conducted in the recent years. The now forgotten Team Spirit exercises operated on a much larger scale. Strategic aviation was involved with B-52 bombers performing emergency landings on a highway.

The "unprecedented nature" of Vigilant Ace is created by the Western media and the defense officials to blackmail and intimidate North Korea. The Pyongyang does not seem to be intimidated though.

There are two positive points in this unpleasant narrative. Having successfully launched the Hwasong-15 missile that could reach any target in the US, DPRK has announced completion of its missile program.

Despite it is not clear whether new launches would follow, the statement sends a conciliatory message to Washington and the international community.

Before the launch the White House also held a reserved stance towards DPRK. Today, Donald Trump is making aggressive and even offensive remarks about DPRK leadership.

For now, it appears that the dialogue has failed and the two sides are again on the brink of war. Again, there is no alternative to the peaceful settlement via negotiations.

The Russian diplomat Igor Morgulov shared a wise idea during the aforementioned conference in Seul. "Today, to begin a dialogue, we must pause and take a deep breath," he said. Morgulov admitted that the situation in the region could devolve to become "apocalyptic", expressing hope that the international community will not allow that.

Russia and China continue to work with Washington and Pyongyang and constantly remind about the proposed road map of the step-by-step settlement. However, neither United States nor North Korea has reacted to the initiative yet.