In the last week, tensions in the Korean Peninsula have been rising. The battlefield may be Eastern Asia, but the potential conflict involves, and will affect, the wider world – the United Nations, China, the United States, and South Korea have already made statements, verbal and physical, about future affairs in the area. It began with North Korea launching four ballistic missiles toward Japan – an apparent dry run for an attack against US troops. The missiles flew for approximately 1000 km from the North East of the country to come to stop in Japanese-controlled waters (just short of Japanese territory – what would have been an act of war). Launching of the missiles themselves is not unusual – and it is this that is worrying. North Korea can no longer claim the launches are tests – they know the missiles work. They are either practice runs, or a crude form of deterrence diplomacy. Either way, North Korea is making a statement and demanding a response.
And a response they got. The US began to deploy their controversial anti-ballistic missile system in South Korea. Despite, political controversy in South Korea itself, including the deposition of the President, on Tuesday the US insisted the deployment would go forth. Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis claimed, “We made an agreement with the Republic of Korea that this was a capability that they needed … This is something that is needed militarily. That agreement was reached and we remain committed to delivering on it.” Problematically, it is not just North Korea who has taken a dislike to the US’s actions. As a result, tensions between the US and China have grown to a new height, but they’ve been high since late 2016. Now, chances are war is not about to break out in the area, but it cannot be denied that these states are treading in dangerous waters. These actions are power plays, with each state trying to ensure that their power is respected. These are common precursors to war. International power is a zero sum game – at least to an extent. Only one state can have power in a region without conflict.
The US’s deployment of its new system changed the game so to speak. Before now, American actions against North Korea were dismissed by others as limited to North Korea, but this new system has the very real potential of limiting Chinese action too. China is interpreting the act as a threat against their own military advantage. China, aside from being vocal about their dissatisfaction, has curbed travel to South Korea and targeted Korean companies operating in the mainland, prompting retaliatory measures from Seoul. As of yet, nothing violent has occurred. But it is only a matter of time. Diplomatic tensions, unless someone gives up, have to be resolved. As it stand, relationships are not unsalvagable. But unless something is done to ease the tensions, the world could be heading for a very nasty conflict between two of the most powerful states in the modern world. It is time for nations to focus on the lives of individuals, to respect national borders, and for superpowers to stop throwing away the lives of civilians in the quest for power – power that serves little real world advantage for the citizens of these nations.