North Korea’s Provocations and the lukewarm Responses of the World Powers

The US aircraft carrier Carl Vinson and its strike group have already been in operation in the region of the Korean peninsula. Nevertheless, North Korea made a missile test on 14 May 2017 even under these potentially dangerous circumstances. Reports stated that the missile test showed the re-entry capability into the atmosphere, and the missile warhead survived the high temperature of 5000 degrees Celsius.[1] Guam is implied to be within the missile’s range (about 3400km from North Korea). Another US aircraft carrier, the Ronald Reagan, which until quite recently had been under regular maintenance, is expected to join the Carl Vinson in the vicinity of the Korean Peninsula. It is reported that the Ronald Reagan departed its home port of Yokohama, Japan, on 16 May 2017. Unimpressed by the enhanced US military presence, North Korea again made a missile test on 21 May 2017.[2]

Since the US and North Korea held an informal meeting in Norway in the middle of May 2017[3], North Korea might be preparing for possible negotiations with Trump’s administration. It is quite obvious that North Korea never intends to abandon its nuclear weapons and technologies. Although the US and Japan have called for imposing severe sanctions on North Korea, a North Korean cargo and passenger ship has started its regular service to Vladivostok, Russia.[4] China seems not to carry out sanctions on North Korea either. Since South Korea’s new president is said to be pro-China and pro-North Korea, the current situation on the Korean Peninsula might be quite welcomed by China. Likewise, the turbulent political situation in America might be quite welcomed by North Korea because the position of US president Trump is not settled yet and or rather getting worse because of his dubious ties with Russia. Should the US seriously contemplate to resolve the IS issues in the Middle East, it would not be ideal to have two conflict areas simultaneously: the Middle East and the Korean Peninsula.

At the meeting of Trump and the Chinese leader Xi Jinping in April in Florida, the issue of North Korea’s nuclear program most likely was discussed. The US missile strike on Syria exactly during this meeting might have had a strong impact on their discussions, especially on Chinese decision makings. However, the National Congress of the Communist Party of China ‒ held every five years and one of the most important events for Chinese political leaders ‒ is already making itself felt. The Chinese National People’s Congress in March 2017 indicated that Xi Jinping could have concentrated political powers on himself. He might though want to avoid any troubles before this very important event in this year’s autumn.

Hence, both China and the US might desire the status quo regarding North Korea for the time being. As long as North Korea depends on China’s oil pipeline – North Korea is carrying on its missile tests indeed – Xi Jinping could keep it under control to a certain extent. In addition, the new South Korean president appealed against the deployment of the US THAAD missile defense system in the country during his presidential campaign. As for China on the one hand, South Korea’s new government might be quite supportive. On the other hand, Russia might not desire a strong Chinese influence on both North and South Korea. Large numbers of Chinese are living in Siberia near the Russian/Chinese border. Russia fears this tendency because the Russian population in this region is thin compared to the Chinese inhabitants just across the border in China. Russia might want to regain influence on North Korea, a situation that may be amenable to North Korea just in case China elects to cut its oil pipeline.

Whether or not Trump concentrates on resolving political pressures in the US or tries to deflect them to strengthen his position might lead to different actions. The latter scenario would render a US strike on North Korea more possible. The North Korean leader Kim Jong-un hopefully makes the right decision at the right moment, i.e., to stop the missile tests.

Last but not least, the nuclear capability is still the most effective deterrence. Thus, North Korea never gives up this capability, and the US, Russia, China, Japan and South Korea well perceive this reality. As a consequence, they might acknowledge North Korea’s nuclear program. The important question is ‒ and the search for the answer is still going on ‒ where is the tolerance limit for the nations involved that face the North Korean provocations. Should a compromise be realized, Japan could be the only nation left to face the threat by North Korea’s missiles because the US, Russia and China have vastly superior nuclear capabilities. If Kim Jong-un is rational, he would avoid targeting these nations. South Korean politics seemingly have a pro-North Korea tendency, and North and South Koreans are the same folks at last.

[1] The Telegraph: North Korea missile passes re-entry test in breakthrough for nuclear programme, May 20, 2017. [accessed May 20, 2017]

[2] CNN: Second carrier to join US ships near Korean Peninsula, May 20, 2017. [accessed May 21, 2017]

[3] U.S. News: Official: North Korea Open to US Talks Under Conditions, May 13, 2017. [accessed May 15, 2017]

[4] The Korea Herald: N. Korean ship arrives at Russian Port, May 19, 2017. [accessed May 20, 2017]

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