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Analysis: the New Development of the Korean Peninsula Nuclear Issue
Author:st Views:277 Updated:2022-11-06


The Korean Peninsula faces a new round of rising tension as a result of the joint air force drills conducted by the U.S. and South Korea starting from 31 October, and North Koreas reaction to this collective operation in the meantime.


According to CNN report, more than 240 warplanes from the U.S. and South Korea participated in the drills named Vigilant Storm.1 Then, North Korea in response on early Wednesday warned that the U.S. and ROK would pay the most horrible price in historyfor any military action against Pyongyang.2 Meanwhile, North Korea on the same day fired 23 missiles - the largest number in a single day so far.3 Shortly thereafter, the country launched an intercontinental ballistic missile (the launch, according to the information released by the media, might have failed) and two short-range missiles.4 To further react to North Koreas missile launches, the U.S. and South Korea on Thursday declared to extend their joint air force till late this weekend, which was previously scheduled to end on Friday.5


The U.S.-ROK joint military exercise has proved to be one of the key factors in leading to a quick surge of tension on the Korean Peninsula. The current situation on the Korean Peninsula can be a contrast to that around one and a half year ago. By then, the Biden Administration had just assumed office for about three to four months; and the security situation on the Korean Peninsula was relatively calm.


Due to the mediating role played by the former government of South Korea, the Biden Administration at the early stage appeared to have lasted the former U.S. government approach - in particular the position held by the Trump government at the second half of the Trump term - in dealing with the DPRK and in moving forward the Korean Peninsula peace process by expressing the U.S. interest in continuing talks with North Korea and agreeing to seek denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula step by step.


In the meantime nevertheless, the U.S. and South Korea also had different views on the procedure of denuclearization - the former South Korean President had ever tried to get the U.S. and North Korea to agree on ending the Korean war status in the first place before taking other steps toward the final stage of denuclearization, while the U.S. government officials insisted to achieve denuclearization first before signing an end of waragreement with North Korea.


Meanwhile, on the North Korean side, the most important concern for the country by then, as required by the North, was that there was a need for the U.S. to end its hostile policies and posture toward the North in the first place in order to create a favourable atmosphere for further talks and then together moving the denuclearization process to the next steps. As far as the U.S. cannot stop its hostile policies toward the North, signing an agreement on ending the war status didnt carry much meaning.


The different positions held by the key stakeholders led to the slowdown of the Korean Peninsula peace talks. In the meantime, South Korea had entered a period of leadership transition. No further progress was made before former ROK President Moon left office.


After South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol assumed office in May this year, in contrast to the former ROK government, apparently the Yoon government was ready to adopt a tougher approach in dealing with the DPRK nuclear issue. In August this year, the U.S. and ROK resumed their joint military drills, and had conducted the first military exercise from 22 August to 1 September in the surrounding areas of the Korean Peninsula ever since 2018. Therefore, generally since August, the situation on the Korean Peninsula has been incrementally getting intense.


The U.S.-ROK joint military drills were claimed by some as a kind of routine operation of the two countries, partially carrying a purpose of deterring the advancement of North Koreas nuclear programme. Nevertheless, from the North Korean perspective, the military drills conducted by the U.S. and South Korea were taken as a serious threat to the countrys national security, given that the site for carrying out the war games was so close to North Koreas borders. For instance, the venue for conducting the U.S.-ROK joint live-fire drills in August was only 32 kilometers away from Demilitarized Zone between the two Koreas.6


Currently, against the background that the U.S. is in the process of implementing its Indo-Pacific strategy, dealing with the North Korean nuclear issue would become a more important concern for the U.S.. Therefore, we may assume that the range of U.S.-ROK joint military drills since August, apart from serving a purpose of deterring North Koreas ambition in advancing its nuclear programme, would also tend to meet an objective of helping enhance the U.S.-ROK alliance relationship, and to consolidate the U.S. influence on the Korean Peninsula, and to further pave the way for the implementation of the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy.


In addition to that, the U.S. also appeared to have an intention to deliberately show the U.S. strong position in dealing with the DPRK before the upcoming midterm election.


The interactions between the U.S. and North Korea as well as between the two Koreas in the past few months have escalated the security situation on the Korean Peninsula; and new uncertainties have emerged. How likely the current situation would continue to evolve, and how long it would take for the core stakeholders to jointly achieve new breakthroughs in moving forward the Peninsula peace process remain to be seen, given that the answers to these questions would be related to how likely the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy can be implemented in the coming steps. Besides that, they would also somehow depend on the development of the domestic political environment in both the U.S. and ROK in particular.




Notes


1. Yoonjung Seo, Sophie Jeong, Junko Ogura and Hilary Whiteman,

North Korea fired the highest number of short-range missiles in a day, says South Korea, CNN,

2 November 2022,

https://edition.cnn.com/2022/11/01/asia/north-korea-missiles-wednesday-intl-hnk/index.html

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Anders Hagstrom, South Korea extend air force drills after North Korea fires ICBM, Fox News, 3 November 2022,

https://www.foxnews.com/world/us-south-korea-extend-air-force-drills-north-korea-fires-icmb

5. Ibid.

6. Aditya Sarin, Joint US-South Korea military exercises conclude, with an eye on North Korea and China, Peoplesdispatch, 6 September 2022,

https://peoplesdispatch.org/2022/09/06/joint-us-south-korea-military-exercises-conclude-with-an-eye-on-north-korea-and-china/



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