The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s “Supreme Leader,” Kim Jong-un has seemingly backed away from his threats of launching a salvo of missiles towards the American territory of Guam. The dictator stated that he would wait just a little while longer, in order to view the actions of the Americans before ordering the launch. American President, Donald Trump, has praised his decision to wait as wise – distinct from his previous threats of bringing “fire and fury” to the North Korean regime. It seems as though tensions are beginning to ease on the Korean peninsula after only recently reaching a fever pitch.
With the Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercises scheduled to commence on Monday, a series of bi-annual war games held between the militaries of the United States, South Korea, Japan, and Australia, tensions may possibly escalate further. Pyongyang sees these exercises as antagonistic in nature, and as mock invasions of their nation. The Allies, on the other hand, see them as a necessary precaution in order to maintain combat readiness against a potentially aggressive North Korean military.
China, Russia, and Germany have all called for a “double-freeze” policy in regard to the Korean issue: in which the North would halt future missile launches in exchange for the Allies ceasing all war games exercises in close proximity to the small state. Both the United States and North Korea have rejected this solution. Pyongyang sees its nuclear missile program as an invaluable deterrent against a possible American invasion, and, in the same light, the Americans see their war games as integral to maintaining their longstanding military alliance and partnership with their east-Asian friends. Neither country is willing to put their only bargaining chip up for negotiation, so how will the Korean Issue play out when diplomacy has seemingly failed?
Will the UFG exercises raise tensions on the peninsula? Absolutely. Will this give Kim Jong-un, at least within his own mind, causus belli to go through with his plan of launching missiles towards Guam? Possibly, although this will prove to be short sighted.
The planned path of the missiles Kim intends to launch goes directly over Japanese territory. The Sea of Japan is equipped with a sea-based Aegis Ballistic Missile Defence System, which can track approximately 100 missiles at any given time; considerably more than the four the North intends on launching. If some of North Korea’s salvo of missiles did manage to get past the Aegis system, however, the island of Guam is also equipped with the more powerful American Terminal High Altitude Area Defence System (THAAD). Presumably, with these powerful missile defence systems in place, not a single one of the North’s missiles will hit its target, assuming the plan the North Korean regime released to the public is true. This would prove humiliating for Kim and the North Korean military as they have continually touted the prowess of their missile capabilities. If America successfully defended itself against the North Korean missile threat, this would prove powerful propaganda for President Trump, as well his allies Japan, and South Korea. If Allied defence systems can neutralize, to some extent, the North’s missile capabilities, this could end hostilities altogether as Kim realizes that a war on the Korean peninsula will mean the end of his regime.
If North Korea does decide to go ahead with their plan, this will be the most provocative action they have conducted against America since the end of the Korean War in 1953. Secretary of Defence General Mattis has stated that if the North launches missiles towards Guam, it is “game on,” seemingly meaning all out war on the Korean peninsula would be inevitable. The truth is, however, that war is not the goal of any of the countries involved, nor is it beneficial.
Could the West be brought into a nuclear war as early as this coming Monday? Not likely. The stakes are simply too high for both sides involved. President Trump and the Americans understand the high costs of a war in Korea, and Kim Jong-un understands that such a war would bring about the end of his regime.