Lifelong Disney fan has adopted skill of dramatic speech
by Peter Lacerenza
As part of its increasingly bellicose rhetoric, North Korean officials on April 6 informed foreign embassies operating in the nation that they could not guarantee the safety of its diplomats, nor of its tourists, in the advent of war. Although this advice comes at a time when North Korea’s tactical trajectory remains uncertain, the reaction of foreign officials to this advice has been mixed at best. Though Russia, a traditional North Korean ally, has made public its considerations of leaving its facilities in the capital city, Pyongyang, other nations like Sweden and France have made no such announcements. Perhaps least concerned is Great Britain, who has not only vouched to continue its ambassadorial functions in the Democratic People’s Republic, but has also proceeded in conducting tour groups through its embassy.
Be that as it may, anxiety over North Korean’s military positioning under uncanny leader Kim Jong Un has reached a fever pitch amongst its East Asian neighbors, as well as the United States. Although intelligence is not definitive, this fear is largely centered on the two medium range Musudan missiles that have been loaded onto mobile launchers along the nation’s east coast. Though it is believed that any such launch would be a test rather than a targeted strike, South Korea and the United States have taken responsive military action in deploying four Aegis destroyers—among them the USS John McCain and USS Decatur—in South Korean waters. Equipped with SPY-1 radar, these ships can detect targets up to 1,000 kilometers away. The United States has deployed a missile defense system in Guam, as North Korea has cited the nation’s Western Pacific bases as possible targets down the road. The United States and South Korea have also taken on additional joint tasks in order to prepare for war with the North, including the Foal Eagle and Key Resolve military drills for which the United States sent stealth bombers as an additional aide in the exercises.
North Korea’s defiance also took an ever-concerning turn for the worse when, on April 2, it announced that a plutonium reactor at the nation’s main nuclear facility was being repurposed to synthesize fuel for nuclear missiles. Such action defies a 2007 agreement between Pyongyang, the United States, China, and four other nations to shut down the facility.
To add to this burgeoning sense of international hysteria, North Korea has also terminated its armistice with South Korea, which was enacted after the end of the Korean War in 1953. Saying that they have entered into a “state of war” with the South, officials from the Democratic People’s Republic have also terminated other formal agreements. In barring 100 South Korean workers—and shipments of necessary materials—from getting to the joint Kaesong industrial complex across the DMZ, North Korea has, at least for now, done away with any lingering hopes for Korean unification.
Though most observers say that the North is not capable of carrying out a nuclear strike, and that many of its threats are hollow, the United States and China have not hesitated to take additional actions. As a result, the two nations’ somewhat contentious relationship has experienced a heightened sense of cooperation and—in China’s case—compliance. Though China is suspicious of increased United States military action in East Asia, it has not made any protests over the deployment of warplanes, or the Aegis destroyers.
This silence could perhaps be a sign of China’s growing frustration with North Korea, or perhaps China’s recently elected leader Xi Jinping’s fear of retribution. Though it is perhaps too early in Xi’s term to predict the trajectory of Chinese sentiments towards Kim Jong-Un and the DPRK, China was swift in its adoption of the United Nation’s sanctions in March. While China has backtracked on such agreements in the past, it is crucial that they follow through with their promises, as sanctions will ultimately be unsuccessful without their participation. Even as China begins mobilizing troops to the bordering Jilin and Liaoning provinces, military action is clearly a last resort. In a recent meeting with South Korean president Park Guen-he, Xi was vocal in in his offering of assistance to reconcile the relations between the two Koreas.
Also entering into the equation is Japan, whose fears over North Korea—as well as their worries over increasing Chinese might—has led to a growing number of participants in joint US military drills. Buoyed by the conservatism of recently instated Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, military spending in Japan has increased for the first time in eleven years. Furthermore, Abe hopes to transform the 240,000-member Japanese self-defense force to become more involved with the United States. In order to fulfill a more demanding role, Japan must call for a broader interpretation of “self-defense” in its postwar Constitution so that they can shoot down North Korean missiles and defend the United States.
While only time will tell the trajectory of North Korea’s war mongering, Secretary of State John Kerry will be going on an East Asian tour to China, Japan and South Korea later this month. The United States most certainly will try to take the lead in maintaining peace, but it is clear that preventing a nuclear crisis is an increasingly collaborative effort.