Aletho News


Early “Spring Exacerbation”

By Konstantin Asmolov – New Eastern Outlook – 01.03.2023 

Those who closely follow the events on the Korean peninsula know that military exercises of the United States and the Republic of Korea take place every spring. The DPRK traditionally perceives them as a rehearsal for an invasion and responds with demonstration of force. Each side declares however that in response to the provocations of the other, it has the right to strengthen its defense capability thus getting trapped in a vicious circle. But although the actions of Washington and Seoul aggravate the situation no less, they do not make the front pages, unlike the news about launches or statements by the North, and this creates a picture in the public mind that Pyongyang is the culprit of tension.

On February 17, the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Korea announced that in March South Korea and the United States would hold a joint 11-day Freedom Shield exercise. In response, the DPRK Foreign Ministry issued a statement, in which it threatened to take “unprecedented tough and decisive measures” for “disturbing military demonstrations that seriously violate the security interests of the DPRK.”

On February 18, North Korea resumed missile launches. An ICBM was launched towards the East Sea (Sea of Japan).

The reaction of Washington and Seoul was quite acute: if you recalculate the missile trajectory from a high-altitude to a more typical one, its range turns out to be 14,000 km. So it can reach the continental territory of the United States by a wide margin.

South Korean experts also noted that the launch had been managed by the Main Missile Directorate, and it was carried out by the same unit as the Hwasong-17 launch on November 18, and it took almost nine and a half hours to prepare the liquid-fuel ICBM for being started. In addition, they traditionally doubted that the missile had successfully entered the atmosphere: allegedly, a video of a descending missile filmed by a Japanese fighter shows that its warhead had been broken into pieces and disappeared from view after it caught fire. After the previous failure in November on September 3, North Korea released an improved Hwasong-15 ICBM with a lighter warhead. But this time the missile seems to have failed again to re-enter the atmosphere.

On February 19, the deputy department head of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), Kim Yo-jong published a press statement in which she castigated Washington’s desire to turn the UN Security Council into an tool for implementing a hostile policy against the DPRK. And although Kim Jong-un’s sister noted that “our ICBMs will never take aim at Seoul,” this phrase is not identical to “DPRK missiles are not aimed at Seoul” – the DPRK has enough other types of missiles and barrel artillery capable of reaching the capital of the Republic of Korea.

On the same day, February 19, South Korea and the United States conducted joint air exercises with the participation of American B-1B strategic bombers. For understanding: taking off from Guam, the B-1B can reach Pyongyang in two hours.

February 20 became an eventful day. First, Kim Yo-jong responded to critical statements about the February 18 launch in the style of “your experts are idiots.” In particular, the fighter did not film the disintegration of the warhead, but the separation of the so-called hypersonic glider from the missile head. The “first sister” summed up by saying that “in case of any direct and indirect alarm,” we will take appropriate response measures and “the frequency of using the Pacific Ocean as our training ground depends on the nature of the actions of American troops“.

Second, at about 7 a.m., the North launched eastwards two medium-range ballistic missiles from Sukchon, South Pyongan Province. It is noteworthy that the North Korean media covered the launch a mere hour after the fact.

In the context of the above, the experts of the Republic of Korea believe that the DPRK military might have simulated strikes on the Cheongju and Osan air bases (North Chuncheon Province) and Gunsan (North Jeolla Province), which are located at a 340 and 390 km distance from the missile launch site. It was from them that the planes of the US and South Korean Air Forces took off for joint exercises the day before.

Third, the ROK has imposed new unilateral sanctions against the DPRK. More precisely, in relation to four individuals and five organizations for their assistance to the nuclear and missile development of the North, as well as for evading the implementation of UN Security Council resolutions. This measure is being applied for the fourth time in the reign of Yoon Suk-yeol: new sanctions were introduced just ten days after the decision had been made to restrict Pyongyang’s illegal activities in cyberspace. Previously, these same individuals and organizations had been included in the US sanctions lists, so the step was purely formal.

Fourth, the “Korean” meeting of the UN Security Council eventually took place. In 2022, the UN Security Council held 10 meetings specifically devoted to discussing North Korea’s missile threats, but all of them ended without any results due to the opposition of China and Russia, who are permanent members of the Security Council with veto power.

In 2023, the scenario was resumed. The United States has called on the UN Security Council to hold North Korea accountable “for its recent missile provocations.” Nevertheless, China once again opposed taking any action against Pyongyang, accusing the United States of escalating tensions and provoking North Korea. Its representative reminded the world that the United States had announced joint military exercises at a higher level and on a larger scale, as well as the timely deployment of strategic assets on the Korean peninsula. Russia’s permanent representative to the UN also accused the United States of provoking North Korea. According to the Russian diplomat, the DPRK is simply responding with missile tests to unprecedented US military maneuvers, which are clearly anti-Pyongyang in nature.

On February 22, the military of South Korea, the United States and Japan conducted joint missile defense exercises in the waters of the Sea of Japan. It involved destroyers equipped with the system, which worked out actions for the exchange of information about ballistic missiles, procedures for their detection, tracking and interception. On the same day, a meeting of the Naval commanders of the three countries took place in Yokosuka.

On the same day, on February 22, the 8th U.S-ROK Deterrence Strategy Committee Table-Top Exercise (DSC TTX) was held at the Pentagon. The parties were represented by Heo Tae-keun, ROK Deputy Minister for National Defense Policy (DEPMIN), Siddharth Mohandas, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia, and Richard Johnson, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear and Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Policy (N-CWMD). The military reviewed measures to strengthen combat readiness in case of the real use of nuclear weapons by the North, and they studied a variety of possible scenarios.

Also on February 22, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the DPRK for International Organizations Kim Song Kyung criticized the “unfair and unbalanced” policy of the UN Secretary General, who “from year to year repeats illogical and deplorable nonsense, no different from the chatter of US State Department officials.” And if, because of this stance, “an undesirable situation arises”, he “will not get rid of the heavy responsibility for it.”

At dawn on February 23, North Korea responded to previous day’s exercise by conducting a launch of Hwasal-4 “strategic cruise missiles” capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

In an interview with the Korea Times, senior researcher at the Korean Defense and Security Forum, Shin Jung-woo said that the range of the missiles was 200 kilometers longer than those tested on January 25, 2022. However, in general, the description of the launch was assessed skeptically. According to a representative of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on February 24, the data obtained by ROK and US observation means do not correspond to the information voiced by the North and may be exaggerated. The military did not provide other details, referring to the fact that this could reveal the capabilities of the allies in the field of surveillance.

On February 24, the head of the DPRK Foreign Ministry Department for US Affairs, Kwon Jong-geun, chastised the UN Security Council meeting, at which, according to the North Korean diplomat, the United States “again found fault with our use of the right to self-defense.” But in addition to the customary rhetoric, there was something new. “The United States should bear in mind that the further continuation of their hostile and provocative acts against the DPRK, despite our repeated protests and warnings, can be considered a declaration of war against our Republic.” This is quite serious, given the new regulations for the use of North Korean nuclear weapons. In response, the US warned that North Korea’s use of nuclear weapons would lead to the end of the DPRK regime, and announced that it would continue to deploy specialized nuclear forces.

What will happen next? In February, the ROK and US military intend to conduct an additional Air Force exercise, and then in March the large-scale Freedom Shield exercise will take place, which will last 11 days, including its field component. The main trigger of the “spring exacerbation”. Moreover, negotiations are underway on the arrival at the port of Busan of an American nuclear aircraft carrier (presumably the Nimitz), which will take part in the exercise. Similarly, in 2022, the United States sent the Ronald Reagan to the peninsula. The Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Korea, however, refused to confirm this fact but stated that “the deployment of key US military assets took place in close consultation between South Korea and the United States“.

So, both sides do not intend to retreat, and it is highly likely that 2023 will equal 2022 in terms of the number of missile launches from the North, and even surpass it. However, seasonal exacerbation is seasonal for a reason: it happens within certain limits. And although non-core experts react to this saber rattling every time as if a war were on the threshold, one should rather be afraid of the probability of an irrational factor when, against the background of tension, someone may lose their nerves.

Konstantin Asmolov, PhD in History, leading research fellow at the Center for Korean Studies of the Institute of China and Modern Asia at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

March 1, 2023 - Posted by | Militarism, Progressive Hypocrite | ,

1 Comment »

  1. An informative and balanced/objective read, IMO. Thanks to KA, NEO and AN!


    Comment by roberthstiver | March 1, 2023 | Reply

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