North Korea, Japan & the US: When the War Games Are for Real
The background to the latest missile firing is the war games now underway in the region involving US and South Korean troops
The nuclear brinksmanship around the Korean peninsula took a further dangerous turn yesterday, with the testing of a North Korean ballistic missile over Japanese territory. Despite a recent lull where president Kim Jong-un did not make good his threat to fire missiles at the US military base on the Pacific island of Guam, the war of words and weapons surrounding this conflict has grown again, and should make all those who fear nuclear war in the Pacific that little bit more fearful.
North Korea’s missile test marks a readiness to continue to threaten the US and its allies in the region. Japan is a major economic and military power in the region, and a close ally of the US, which has stationed very large numbers of its troops there since the Second World War. There is much resentment towards Japan in Korea in part because of its occupation of the country during that war.
There may be other and more pragmatic reasons for the route of the missile. According to the analyst Stratfor:
‘North Korea is heavily constrained by geography when it comes to testing long-range missiles. There is virtually no direction in which North Korea could launch an IRBM or intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) at a standard or minimum-energy trajectory without overflying another country's territory….Because of its limitations, the missile flight path of today's launch is the least provocative one North Korea could have chosen for a standard trajectory test. The part of Japan that was overflown is lightly populated, and in the event of an accidental impact on Japanese territory it carries the least risk of damage or casualties.’
Nonetheless, the move will be seen as a provocation and one which has led to the convening of an emergency UN Security Council meeting later today. Donald Trump has responded by saying that ‘all options are on the table’ in response to the test. After he talked with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a US statement said: ‘The two leaders agreed that North Korea poses a grave and growing direct threat to the United States, Japan, and the Republic of Korea, as well as to countries around the world’.
This attempt to paint the conflict as one sided is however grossly hypocritical. There can be no justification for nuclear weapons, given that their use will destroy large sections of humanity and of the planet. The US wants to deny nuclear weapons to a country such as North Korea, but will do nothing to give up its own nuclear arsenal, and is the only country to have used nuclear weapons, to devastating effect.
The background to the latest missile firing is the major military manoeuvres – or war games – now underway in the region involving US and South Korean troops. These are no minor incidents but involve huge numbers of troops. It is estimated 17.500 US troops and 50,000 South Koreans are involved in the ones taking place over the past week. They are claimed as defensive manoeuvres but, are seen by North Korea as dress rehearsals for an invasion, and take place close to the border between the two Koreas. These war games take place every year for twice a year and involve many of the US troops permanently stationed on the peninsula.
It is hard to see how all this will not increase tensions, and possibly the threat of real war. China has called for more diplomacy today, but the direction of travel seems to be against this. There are calls in South Korea for increasing the power of warheads on their own missiles, and for nuclear powered submarines. Japan has increased its military presence in recent years, and China is the major military power in the region. The call for a freeze on testing and manoeuvres on all sides has fallen on deaf ears.
We have seen a decade and a half of grindingly brutal war in the Middle East. Its spread to the Pacific is an ever-present danger.