Rising Tensions on the Korean Peninsula

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Hostility between North and South Korea has persisted since the Korean war in the early 1950s, which occurred after their separation in 1945. Recently, however, the animosity has nearly reached a point of conflict once again.

On Friday, October 28th, North Korea fired two ballistic missiles into waters off the east coast of the Korean Peninsula. They were launched from Kangwon province in the east, specifically in the Tongchon county. That was the 28th time that they had fired missiles over the course of this year.

More recently, this has escalated further with a set of military drills named “Vigilant Storm” conducted by South Korea and the United States. The 4-day exercise included a total of 240 aircrafts and thousands of military personnel from South Korea’s and USA’s air forces, along with US Marines, navy and army. South Korea employed many military aircrafts to carry out missions such as close air support, defensive counterair and other aerial missions. North Korea condemned the operation, stating that such “military rashness and provocation can no longer be tolerated”. 

Subsequently, Pyongyang launched 23 missiles into the sea in retaliation on Wednesday, November 2nd. Included in these was one missile that landed just under 60 kilometers off of the shore of South Korea. This was their reaction to operation Vigilant Storm, but resulted in further escalation from both sides.

As a response, Seoul launched three air-to-ground missiles across the Northern Limit Line, the sea border between the two countries. South Korea’s president, Yoon Suk-yeol, labeled the actions of the North as “an effective act of territorial encroachment,” and chose to react in that way. 

Following this exchange, the UN Security Council was called together at the request of the United States, Britain, Albania, Ireland, France, Ireland and Norway. They met on the 4th of November, and discussed the ongoing issues around the 38th parallel. The 10 non-permanent members, including India, Brazil and Mexico among others – condemned the missile launch.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the United Nations, described Pyongyang’s firing of 59 missiles this year as “appalling.” Simultaneously, she criticized other members of the Security Council for not speaking up against the act and not issuing a statement condemning it. Eventually, the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres publicly criticized the missile launches of the North and urged them to “cease any further reckless acts.” 

On the other hand, Russia and China have been laying the blame on the South and on the United States for heightening tensions with Operation Vigilant Storm and they refused to condemn or impose sanctions on Pyongyang. 

Three days later, on the 7th of November, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un stated that the missiles were practice for what would happen if they decided to “mercilessly” strike key points in South Korea. There is concern that this situation could be used as an opportunity for North Korea to upgrade their nuclear arsenal and possibly conduct nuclear bomb tests, which they have not done since 2017.

However, the threat was disregarded by US and South Korean officials who said they would further enhance their joint training programs and even threatened to “end Kim’s regime” if he dared to employ nuclear weapons.

According to South Korea’s chiefs of staff, the US’ quick response to North Korea’s provocations showed a commitment to protecting their ally through any means necessary. The two countries issued a joint statement condemning North Korea’s actions and warned against any further attempts at escalation. 

The US and South Korea have increased military exercises conducted together since Yoon Suk-yeol was elected in May. Suk-yeol had pledged to take a stronger stance against North Korean provocation and it seems that he is fulfilling his vow.

With both sides contributing to the growing distrust and tension between them, it is evident that this conflict most likely will not be resolved peacefully any time soon. 

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