The Escalating Situation With North Korea


On top of the three nuclear tests since becoming the supreme leader of North Korea in 2010, Kim Jong-un has conducted six missile tests in 2017. These recent, repeated attempts have escalated the tensions, thereby straining the relationship with China and with the USA.

The first missile was tested on February 11th, and it was launched from a mobile launcher and travelled 310 miles into the Sea of Japan. The commander of the US Strategic Command, General John Hyten, marked the success as “a major advancement” in North Korea’s military capabilities. Then, on March 5th, five medium-range missiles were launched, four of which successfully travelled 200 miles. The subsequent four trials, one in March and three in April, had lesser success: in two attempts, the missiles exploded soon after launch, whereas the other two exploded before travelling 40 miles.

Various measures were taken in response to this growing threat in the Peninsula. After the second missile test, the US had transferred the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) to South Korea. The system was designed to detect and shoot down short and medium range missiles in their last stages of flight. At the same time, the US also increased its naval presence in the Korean Peninsula. Most importantly, Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in the US on April 6th to meet President Trump. Their meeting, just days after the fourth missile test, focused on how to dissuade North Korea from further testing its missiles and nuclear weapons. The US hoped that China, arguably North Korea’s most powerful ally, would increase its economic sanctions on its neighbour.

Meanwhile, has the US made comments about the tests. For instance, Rex Tillerson, the US Secretary of State, after the fourth test on 4th of April that that “North Korea launched yet another intermediate range ballistic missile. The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment.” Most recently, President Trump commented on the newest missile test on April 28th by saying that “there is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea. Absolutely.” Then, on April 30th, President Trump again expressed similar views in regards to potential military action in the future by stating, “I don’t know. I mean, we’ll see.” His statements highlight the possibility of the US engaging in military action with North Korea.

Worryingly, North Korea had also expressed similar opinions in regards to how the current situation could be resolved violently. For example, Kim In Ryo, the North Korean UN Ambassador, declared in a UN press conference on April 18th that the US naval buildup “has created a dangerous situation in which thermonuclear war may break out at any moment on the peninsula and poses a serious threat to world peace and security.” The forceful wording is unprecedented and emphasizes how much the situation has intensified.

These verbal attacks, especially between the US and North Korea, are steering the situation to a violent resolution. Instead, economic sanctions and a greater involvement from China could attenuate the tensions more peacefully. To that end, the meeting between President Trump and President Xi Jinping could have opened novel possibilities.

History shows that violence or even the expectation of violence has always begotten violence. With how fast the conflicts in the Peninsula have worsened, it is of great importance to find a peaceful solution.

Min Ji Kim

Undergraduate student studying Biochemistry at University of Oxford