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Wednesday, July 26, 2017, 07:30 (GMT+7)
Security implications to the region of the US deterrence policy against North Korea

Recently, the US has increased military pressure on North Korea due to its recent ballistic missile tests. Such move not only proved ineffective  but also caused more tension and complexity to the situation in the Korean peninsular.

Ups and downs in the US – North Korea relations

After the Second World War, the Korean peninsular was split into two, the South and the North, and then formed the two states, namely Republic of Korea (South Korea) and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) with the 38th parallel being the temporary border. In the Korean War (1950 – 1953), the US directly intervened to back South Korea in the fight against North Korea, resulting in the hostility between the two Koreas ever since. Moreover, during the Cold War, Washington also imposed economic sanctions and military threat and deterrence against Pyongyang making the situation worse.

Against such backdrop, North Korea sought to strengthen its national defense capability in which developing nuclear capability was of top priority. In 1980, Pyongyang built the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center with a 5-MWe experimental reactor and a fuel reprocessing facility that recovers uranium and plutonium from spent fuel using the PUREX process. Since then, North Korea’s nuclear program has become a focus of attention of the region and the world. The US and its allies increased sanctions and interventions into the peninsular. In October 1994, implementing the policy of “selective intervention”, the Clinton administration signed the Agreed Framework with North Korea, in which North Korea promised to stop its nuclear program in exchange for alternative energy supplies from the US. However, the Agreed Framework soon broke down, mainly because the two sides didn’t fully implement their commitments. After the 11/9 terrorist attacks, Bush administration approved the “first strike” military strategy against terrorism and listed North Korea among sponsor states of terrorism which worsened their relations. In October 2006, North Korea successfully carried out their first nuclear test underground. In response, the US and some western countries strengthened sanctions and exerted greater military pressure on Pyongyang. With the urge of the US and the West, in February 2007, at the fifth round of the 6-party talk on North Korea’s nuclear program, an important agreement was reached. Accordingly, North Korea agreed to close its Yongbyon nuclear complex in exchange for the huge fuel aid. In reality, Pyongyang has destroyed the cooling tower of the Yongbyon nuclear complex to show its commitment to the agreement. In response, the US removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, marking a big move toward the denuclearization in the Korean peninsular and normalization of relations between the two countries. Shortly after, however, implementing the policy of “strategic patience” with North Korea, Obama’s administration, on one hand,sought to dialogue with Pyongyang, on the other hand, imposed more economic sanctions and military threats against the country. As a result,  their bilateral relations were in hostility, and Korean peninsular remains a hot spot of the region and the world.

One of the US aircraft carriers sent to the Sea of Japan in June 2017
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Trump’s tough policies on North Korea

According to a statistic released by Trump’s administration recently, over the past decade, North Korea has carried out 5 nuclear tests and as many as 100 missile tests. Intelligent information showed that North Korea has reached a high level of researching and manufacturing of nuclear  weapons and ballistic missiles which is far beyond the expectation of the US and the West. Many American nuclear experts worried that with its nuclear and ballistic missile technology, North Korea, in the near future, may develop its own nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile. Recently, regarding the continuous missile tests of North Korea, US President Trump called Pyongyang’s action as provocative and aggressive and said the world and the US should have drastic measures to curb North Korea’s nuclear ambition. The White House also declared that the settlement of Pyongyang’s nuclear program would be a focus in Trump’s foreign policies. To realize the policy, the White House has carried out synchronous measures to strengthen deterrence  against Pyongyang. Economically, the US has urged the UN to impose more trade sanctions on North Korea. It also named several seaports of different countries in its “special control” list to curb the fuel supply for Pyongyang. Furthermore, the US also threatened to punish any countries violating the UN’s sanctions on North Korea. Militarily, together with enhancing the combat capability of its installations in the region, the US Department of Defense has deployed the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) systems in South Korea to deal with North Korea’s missiles. The Pentagon has also dispatched its armada, including 3 most modern aircraft carriers to west Pacific, a rare military move in the area since the end of the Cold War. The US Military has also coordinated with South Korea and Japan and some other countries in the region to conduct joint naval and air patrols, exchange intelligent information, hold large scale exercises, aiming to show their deterrent strength. North Korea regarded this as their threats and said it is ready to retaliate any acts of aggression. In early April 2017, the US launched dozens of cruise missiles on a Syrian airfield which, according to analysts, not only to punish Damascus but also to send a message to North Korea. Diplomatically, Washington urged UN’s member states to fully respect all existing sanctions against Korea and degrade their diplomatic ties with Pyongyang. At the US – China Summit in April 2017, President D. Trump pressed Chinese President Xi Jinping to do more to curb North Korea’s nuclear program. Many senior officials of the US government also expressed that the US is considering all means, including the use of force, to settle North Korea’s nuclear issue.

Security implications to the region and the world

Observers hold that though strengthening defense capability to counter potential threats to national security is justifiable, North Korea should not cite this reason to violate international conventions and threaten regional and world security. However, the sanctions and coercive measures of the US and Western countries against Korea not only prove ineffective but also make it more belligerent. In reality, while considering Korea’s nuclear program a “threat” and pressed Pyongyang to abandon it, the US invested more to modernize its nuclear storage and equipped its allies with nuclear missiles to deal with potential threats. Moreover, to realize its ambition of regional and global hegemony, in the name of protecting democracy and human rights,  the US is increasing its interventions to force other countries to follow its orbit. The US, regardless of international law and opinion, also unilaterally launched “anti-terrorist” wars and ousted its unfavored governments in the Middle East, Northern Africa and other parts of the world, causing conflicts and disabilities in many countries. According to analysts, the US military deployment to deter and threat North Korea not only worsens the relations between the two countries but also increases tension in the Northeastern Asia in particular, and in Asia – Pacific region, in general. What’s more, China and Russia also voiced their concern about the US deployment of THAAD system in South Korea and regard this as their security threat.

The Korean peninsular is being heated up by tough words and military actions of both North Korea and the US. International community has voiced concern over the matter and called on both parties to exercise self-restraint, respect international laws, the UN Charter, and independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity of each other, negotiating to find out the best solutions for settling the disagreements and building a Korean peninsular of denuclearization, peace, cooperation and development. This is benifical not only for both parties but also the regional and world peace and stability.

Kieu Loan

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