BEIJING – A new crisis is brewing on the Korean Peninsula. In mid-February, North Korea conducted an intermediate-range ballistic missile test. On March 1, the United States and South Korea began a joint military exercise that is unprecedented in scale and intensity.
These military drills will run until the end of April, and will include a significant number of ground, air, and naval forces from both countries, including strategic assets such as B-52 bombers and the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson. And, despite objections from Russia and China, the US is accelerating its deployment of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system in South Korea.
On the same day that the US and South Korea began their military drills, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un inspected the headquarters of Large Combined Unit 966 of the Korean People’s Army. Five days later, the North launched four ballistic missiles, one of which reportedly landed within 200 miles of Japan’s coastline. The tests have led most experts to believe that North Korea has significantly expanded its nuclear and ballistic-missile capabilities, and that by 2020 it may be able to affix miniaturized nuclear warheads onto long-range missiles capable of reaching the continental US.
Talks in New York between a North Korean delegation and former senior US officials had originally been planned for early March. But the meeting was canceled in late February, when the US State Department refused to issue visas for North Korean diplomats, perpetuating a lack of communication that has only compounded the risks of the current standoff.