30 July 2017 – The United States, along with their South Korean and Japanese allies have responded to the latest North Korean provocation with a standoff flyover of B-1 bombers and a successful test of the THAAD (Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense). The South Korean-based THAAD system has been seen as controversial by North Korean ally and significant US trade partner, China, because it is perceived to offset the nuclear power deterrence balance in the region. In other words, China is nervous about the US having a leg up on nuclear defense when traditionally the nuclear powers were balanced by the theory of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). Successful demonstration of the THAAD in this theater is a warning to North Korea that even if they eventually develop an ability to deliver a nuclear missile to the US, it would be shot down, and North Korea would risk nuclear retaliation by the much more powerful and accurate American arsenal. It’s also a secondary-warning to China that their perceptions could be realized if they don’t intervene as North Korea’s only ally and get the Hermit Kingdom in check.
What is the real threat from North Korea?
The impoverished and isolated country has a Soviet-era armory that is absolutely lethal, but technology unsophisticated. The real danger comes from the massive amount of firepower that is within range of South Korea’s capitol and largest city, Seoul. There are genuine fears of biological and chemical agents being added to that firepower to make it even more deadly. The dictatorship is ran like a massive military as the “reserve” forces of North Korea are basically every able bodied person that is not currently serving. So their equipment is decades old, relatively inaccurate, but still very deadly, and they have a large and brainwashingly devoted “army” throughout the entire country. For decades, the back-and-forth provocations were seen as a way to bring world powers to the table to negotiate with North Korea but in the years since Kim Jong-Un has taken over from his father, they have definitely become more unpredictable and a little more escalatory.
Is there any good news?
The demonstration of the THAAD system may be a diplomatic last straw for China and bring them to the point of getting North Korea to stop its escalations. 38 North assesses that there is still some time before North Korea is capable of making a nuclear weapon small and efficient enough to put on a missile and that there’s still some time before they develop and test a missile that can reach even Hawaii or Alaska. But it seems the Trump administration is abruptly ending the policy of “strategic patience” and we’ll continue to see more escalation from both sides so long as China doesn’t get Nor Korea to back down. One thing to watch for is an opportunity for North Korea to be able to back down and still save face. “Saving Face” is a critical part of Korean culture that would have to be accepted by the US, if they really want to see a deescalation…
Categories: East Asia