By Assad Bhuglah
The Cold War tensions divided Korea on ideological grounds. Prior to World War II, Japan colonized Korea for 35 years. The Korean peninsula was divided seventy-two years ago, after Japan’s surrender in World War II. Mass refugee flows left numerous families separated at the end of the Korean War in 1953. Reunification remains the formal objective of Seoul. Following Japan’s surrender, the Soviet Union and the United States divided the Korean Peninsula into northern and southern regions. In the north, the Soviet Union installed Kim Il Sung, a communist who ushered in the North Korean dictatorship still in place today, ruled by his grandson, Kim Jong Un. The U.S. agreed to a Mutual Defence Treaty with South Korea, ensuring the U.S. would maintain a troop presence in the region to protect from a North Korean invasion. North Korea represents one of the greatest challenges facing humanity today, but the scale of the international response has been severely lacking.
U.S. military involvement in the Korean peninsula has its roots in the Korean War of the early 1950s, in which the United States supported forces in the southern part of the peninsula against communist forces in the north, who were aided militarily by China and the Soviet Union. Today, the United States is committed to defending South Korea (also known as the Republic of Korea) under the terms of the Mutual Defence Treaty between the United States and the Republic of Korea. The United States has nearly 29,000 troops deployed in the Korean peninsula for that purpose. In addition to U.S. troops, many of South Korea’s 630,000 troops and North Korea’s 1.2 million troops are stationed near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), making it one of the most heavily armed borders in the world. Pyongyang suspects that the annual joint drills between the US and South Korea are a rehearsal for an invasion of North Korea.
Many Americans believe that North Korea is irrational and extremely hostile and that it will soon be able to hit the US homeland with a nuclear missile. Last month North Korea test-launched two Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) at highly lofted angles. According to some experts, those missiles can reach some U.S. parts like Alaska, Los Angeles or Chicago if fired at normal, flattened trajectories. Analysts say it would be only a matter of time for the North to achieve its long-stated goal of acquiring a nuclear missile that can strike anywhere in the United States. The rhetoric coming out of both Pyongyang and Washington is disturbing. Each side worries that the other may be planning to attack. This increasing mutual hostility is worsening the crisis.
North Korea is barred by United Nations resolutions from carrying out ballistic missile tests or from having a nuclear arms program. Nonetheless, North Korea defied the resolutions — conducting several ballistic missile tests this year alone and five nuclear tests since 2006, including two last year. The North's nuclear aspirations date from the 1960s and are consistent with the regime's desire for political and military autonomy in the face of opposition not only from its traditional enemies such as the United States, Japan and South Korea, but also over the objections of its historical partners such as China and Russia. The North's accelerated missile testing campaign and last year's two successful nuclear tests have materially enhanced the country's deterrent capabilities. The U.S. keeps building pressure on North Korea to stop developing nuclear weapons and missiles. North Korea continues to develop nuclear weapons and missiles to ensure its survival against an enemy it’s so terrified of. Pyongyang keeps threatening to use the nuke on the U.S.
Last month, President Donald Trump pledged to answer North Korean aggression with "fire and fury." North Korea, for its part, threatened to launch missiles toward the American territory of Guam before its leader Kim Jong Un backed off saying he would first watch how Washington acts before going ahead with the missile launch plans.
For more than half a century, China has seen North Korea as a dangerous irritant as much as an asset. In the eyes of the Chinese, North Korea is regarded as an essential buffer to the US military establishment in South Korea. But China would happily ditch it if there were a better option. China is North Korea's only major diplomatic ally and economic partner, and the U.S. and others have called on Beijing to use whatever leverage it has to pressure North Korea into curbing nuclear tests and missile launches that violate U.N. sanctions. However, China retorts that the perceptions of its influence with North Korea are exaggerated. It also refuses to take measures that might destabilize North Korea's hard-line communist regime and lead to violence, massive flows of refugees into China, and the possibility of pushing the failed North Korea to be united with South Korea, thus reinforcing the ally of United States. China is bitterly opposed to South Korea's deployment of a sophisticated U.S. missile defence system that threatens to jeopardize Chinese security and spy on Chinese missile launches and other military activities within north eastern China.
Russia and China both share a border with North Korea. Neither the Chinese nor the Russians would like the fact that North Korea acquired nuclear weapons. Although China and Russia were once sworn communist rivals, the North Korea’s escalating tensions with the US has brought Beijing and Moscow closer together in order to stamp out the threat of an imploding nuclear war.
Japan has been preparing for possible evacuations as Kim Jong Un continues to use nuclear weapons as a means of threatening the world. The demand and sales of nuclear bunkers, that can fit in basement of houses, have been on the rise over the past months, as more and more people prepare for the worst in the ongoing North Korea crisis. The model bunker house in contains everything one can imagine to ensure the survival of its residents, including gas masks, a blast door, emergency foods and even a radiation-blocking air purifier in the case of a power outage.
The Western powers seemed to be divided in their approach to the Korean crisis. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has declared that military action would not be a solution to the North Korea crisis and that escalating rhetoric of President Trump was the "wrong answer” in the conflict over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program. Instead, Merkel called for all sides to the crisis, including the United States, South Korea and Japan to work closely together with the United Nations.
Of late, tensions with North Korea appear to have calmed down considerably. Most of that is thanks to China making a series of positive moves and statements. The big move came when China agreed to ban imports of North Korean iron, lead, and coal as part of new U.N. sanctions on Pyongyang. This represents a strong blow to Kim Jon Un's regime. On the other hand, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis both insisted that the Trump administration is not seeking regime change in North Korea and wants a diplomatic resolution to this dispute.