I have a real concern that there is an increasing risk of war in the Korean peninsula, with no end in sight.

Article by Oliver B. Steward, a Doctoral Candidate in International Security at the University of East Anglia. This article is the opinion of the author and not necessarily that of the UK Defence Journal.

The latest missile test of a North Korean missile flying over Japan in August 2017 will do nothing to alleviate the crisis in the region, but only deepen it, making peace less likely and isolating the pariah state. Kim Jong Un is attempting to militarise the situation, as to add legitimacy to the North Korean regime, as well as to justify its expansion of its missile programme.

This Communist regime has impoverished its own people by its enormous military spending, and its policy of belligerency towards its neighbours, notably South Korea, and Japan, as well as its perceived nemesis the United States.

The last frontier of the Cold War is the Korean 38th parallel that separates North and South, through the use of the ‘demilitarised zone’ which is a term of irony; as it’s one of the most heavily defend, fortified, and dangerous regions in the world.  While China may have some leverage, the regime will not be deterred from its goals, and I sadly believe that conventional deterrence will not work, nor will the sanctions unless the regime in North Korea reforms itself.  Sadly a military option looks more and more likely as the most probable outcome to the Korean crisis, unless there is an attempt to deescalate the conflict.  There is a real danger of nuclear war.

For a nuclear world, the threat or demonstration of the capability of launching a nuclear device, with a missile is enough to send a shiver down anyone’s spine. The North Korean regime has a ‘military first’ policy, but this is not based on some irrational impulse, but fear of what other powers may do if they do not demonstrate force.

The North Koreans know that the United States does not want the status quo, but would ideally like to envisage regime change.  They have already witnessed what has happened in Iraq with the US invasion in 2003, and this created the impetus to demonstrate capacity and capability of having weapons of mass destruction.

This means that in order for the North Korean state to survive, it must pursue a WMD programme or may be perceived as weak by outsiders.  Furthermore, its ideology called ‘Juche’ means self reliance and complete adulation of the North Korean state.

International politics is as much about demonstrating credibility and resolve to your potential adversaries.

Now from the North Korean perspective, the world’s superpower surrounds its country with military assets and bases, including aircraft carriers positioned in the Pacific Ocean.  North Korea is a small country of just over 25 million people, but has an army of around 1 million estimated.  The military in North Korea is celebrated, and even if the country is ruined by its erroneous economic policies to bolster its military.

The military is the state, and guarantees to Kim Jong Un, stability of the regime domestically, and a potent force internationally. It has numerous tanks, and armoured personnel carriers that are reminiscent of the Cold War, and its air force is antiquated. However its array of defensive systems and ground to air missiles as well as anti-aircraft guns may prove a serious threat to low flying aircraft – particularly transport aircraft and helicopters.

But that does not mean it does not have a conventional deterrence.  The thought of massive artillery strike on Seoul, which could destroy large parts of the capital of South Korea is a real possibility. That fear strikes at the heart of those who live in the region.

The fear that an armoured offensive by North Korea come crashing through the ‘demilitarised zone’ with troops armed with AK47 variants shooting their way to the capital will mean that the United States may have to respond.  Its conventional forces may be overwhelmed.  Granted the allied nations may have technological superiority but the situation will nonetheless deteriorate very quickly.

Think of one possibility, which is ironic and is demonstrable, of how the combination of nuclear technology and antiquated aircraft could prove a potential threat.  The North Korean paratroopers use the 70 year old Antonov An-2 transport aircraft according to (Fox News).

Now the News article provides an interesting narrative of how this aircraft is a very dangerous threat.  The aircraft could be used as a delivery vehicle for a nuclear device.  Furthermore, this antiquated aircraft has a low radar profile which means that it may be hard to detect with conventional radar.  Some would say a nuclear attack by Soviet era Antonov An-2 planes is ludicrous and not possible. But I would argue the latter. North Korea may behave in a very innovative fashion in order to provide a credible nuclear deterrence.

The combination of this possibility with more rocket launches means the North Koreans have the credibility it needs to strike fear.  In addition, the North Koreans have a very intricate supply change which stretches to the Middle East, with the possibility of weapons technology coming from Iran.

Therefore, even if it lacks the technology domestically it could procure it by other nations, some of whom including Iran who may want to shift the balance of power away from the United States.  Furthermore, Bashar al Assad in Syria, have kept a relationship with North Korea, and there has been speculation that even as far as Zimbabwe there has been relationships in the past where the North Korean military has trained Zimbabwean forces.

What we are currently witnessing in the Korean peninsula is a security dilemma, with a system of multipolarity defined as where more than two powers are acting to influence a series of events.  In the region, you have North Korea, who is the main antagonist, with Japan, South Korea, China, Russia, and the United States also in the region, with differing sets of foreign policy objectives.  Furthermore you have a military supply chain which stretches to the Middle East and elsewhere.

There is a need to bring a normalisation of relations in the regime, and lessen the risk of a nuclear war in the peninsula.

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4 years ago

This is verging on hysteria

4 years ago

Risk of nuclear war? Very low I would say. The most likely outcome is that NK develop nuclear armed ICBMs and the rest of the world apply more sanctions. Then not much else happens. To attack NK would be ridiculous given the size of their army and amount of munitions that could land in SK before the artillery is taken out. It would be carnage so is very unlikely to happen despite all the bluster from the US.

Not ideal at all, just the most likely outcome.

4 years ago

If the US used nuclear weapons they would probably be tactical as opposed to intercontinental missiles. If used swiftly against known nuclear military sites, then it may just render their programme dead in the short-term. If precise systems are used with minimum civilian casualties, it just might bring this brinkmanship to an end for now. Some say that any such attack would result in an immediate counter attack against South Korea. I’m not so sure? Sometimes, as seen against Gidaffy the expected response doesn’t necessarily materialise. The North knows the joint strength of the South and USA would bring about… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
4 years ago

If the principle of M.A.D applied in the Cold War then why not now?
They have the bomb. They will not use it as they know if they do they are destroyed.
They see the west bullying Libya Afghanistan Iraq without the means to fight back and think they must be strong to deter.
I say leave them alone. They should have been dealt with decades ago but other administrations looked the other way and bottled it, and now its all Trumps fault?? Come on.