North Korean Repercussions are Anything but Reactionary
This weekend the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) continued its unrelenting dominance of international news headlines. Its latest provocation; firing an artillery round “near” Baengnyongdo Island, the most westerly lying island of the Republic of Korea.
Following its fourth nuclear test in January and a satellite launch in early February, the reclusive state has been plastered across international media outlets with much of the western media calling for consequences for such an overt show of force. The Kim regime has been accused of committing war crimes and systemic human rights abuses and planning terror attacks, and the repercussions have already started rolling in.
Since putting a satellite into orbit on the 7th of February, which could allegedly be developed to carry missiles capable of reaching the American mainland, the U.S. Congress has voted to impose economic sanctions on the DPRK. Additionally, South Korea’s President, Park Geun-Hye, has announced that the U.S. funded Terminally High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system would be installed in the south of the peninsula, and the Republic of Korea has announced that they will undertake the largest ever joint military exercise with the U.S. in March.
While these are being sold to the public as defensive measures to deter and prevent future North Korean aggression, in reality their objectives are far wider reaching.
The THAAD missile defense system, designed to intercept and destroy any missiles fired from the North of the peninsula, was approved as early as April of 2015 by the “Deterrance Strategic Committee” and operational plans were drawn up. Yet within hours of the satellite launch this month, South Korean news agency, Yonhap, announced the systems deployment. Any notion that this is a retaliation for North Korean activity would seem nullified by the fact that the project has been underway for almost a year.
Both Chinese and Russian spokesmen, Hua Chunying and Alexander Timonin (Russian Ambassador for South Korea) explicitly stated last year that American THAAD plans must proceed with caution as THAAD may compromise other nations national security aims in the region, as well as antagonizing North Korea which would further deteriorate relations between the two Koreas.
While the THAAD system has been packaged as a defensive measure aimed at preventing a DPRK attack, it has to be seen in the context of the political situation in the region. It’s radius of 18,000 km allows it to conveniently intercept any Chinese and Russian strikes. China is surrounded by U.S. military bases and American naval ships are active in the South China Sea around the disputed Paracel Islands. As a result THAAD needs to be seen as the psychological weapon that it is, and the fact that the protective umbrella extends into China suggests it is as much a preemption of Chinese activity in the region as tensions increase over disputed regions in the South China Sea, as it is a reaction to the tests of Kim Jong-Un.
With American help, South Korea has procured weapons to destroy underground bunkers, and equipment capable of clearing minefields such as the Demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas. And last March, during the last mammoth South Korean-U.S. military exercise, plans for preemptive attacks on North Korea were drawn up. While western media outlets like to emphasize the aggression of the Kim regime and their appetite for nuclear procurement, the DPRK are responding to an overt display of military force on its already tense southern border. Unless American foreign policy proceeds with a greater degree of pragmatism and caution it will undoubtedly incur more nuclear tests from the DPRK as well as a degree of suspicion from the Chinese.
American dollars have indiscreetly fueled anti-DPRK policy on the peninsula since the 1953 armistice which ended the Korean War. The latest economic sanctions approved by Obama last week contain funding for loudspeakers to broadcast K-pop and propaganda across the DMZ.
China has reaffirmed that the North Korea nuclear issue requires a steady and balanced response and is urging all parties to find a peaceful solution through the resumption of the six-party talks. The Chinese know that an increased American military presence in the region is done with one eye on Pyongyang and one on Beijing and once the U.S stops stoking DPRK nuclear fires, and the DPRK stop legitimizing U.S economic and military aid to South Korea then China can rest easier as its noisy neighbor on the other side of Manchuria won’t be making quite so much noise. However with the joint U.S.-Republic of Korea military exercises due to go ahead next month, China will have a few more sleepless nights.