North Korea’s recent missile tests could again escalate tensions with the US. The two missile tests within a week can be perceived as a threat by the US administration. Things might worsen if the US fails to reach an agreement on removing economic sanctions imposed on North Korea. The US had proposed to lift the harshest sanctions imposed on North Korea in return for the latter suspending its nuclear operations but failed to deliver the same despite North Korea’s denuclearisation programme. After months of peace, the Korean Peninsula has again started destabilising due to the growing tensions between the two countries. The US and North Korea have held several talks but a consensus remains elusive.
What caused the tension to escalate?
From the US point of view, the main cause of escalation is the restart of North Korea’s missile operations while from the North Korean view point, America’s failure to reach an agreement on economic sanctions is the main cause of the tension escalation. Besides, the presence of the US army in Korean Peninsula and the joint military exercise of the US and South Korea are the other big reasons behind North Korea’s retaliating behaviour.
Avipsu Halder, Assistant Professor, International Relations, Calcutta University, informed BE, “The United States is keen to expand its bases in the East Asian region. They are trying to alter the balance of power situation in their favour. Hence, any initiative for peace is hard to achieve between the US and North Korea.”
Why did the US-North Korea talks fail?
The US-North Korea Summit was held in February, 2019 in Singapore, Hanoi, Vietnam. The summit was a failure as the leaders could not reach any agreement. US President Donald Trump said in a press conference after the summit in Hanoi, “Basically, they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety and we couldn’t do that. So, we had to walk away from that particular suggestion.” However, the North Korean officials rejected the claims made by President Trump. In a press conference called by the North Korean officials, Ri Yong-ho, Foreign Minister of North Korea said, “We had proposed only a partial lifting of sanctions. Of a total of 11 United Nations sanctions, we wanted five sanctions originally imposed in 2016 and 2017 to be lifted.”
The US considers North Korea as a rough nation and suspects that if the sanctions are removed, then the North Koreans may restart their nuclear programme secretly as there would be uninterrupted supply of revenues to North Korea to fund these operations.
Can North Korea pressurise the US for negotiations
The US has one of the most advanced militaries in the world with a strong presence in the Pacific region. Halder added, “It is hard for North Korea to pressurise the US by demonstrating military power. The US is far more superior in that domain.” However, there is a different angle. The Trump administration considers North Korea’s denuclearisation programme as one of its biggest achievements so far, something that the Americans have, in vain, strived to do in the past decades. So, the US may come under pressure if North Korea totally abstains from the talking table. However, when it comes to pressurising the US through missile operations and military exercises, the North Koreans do not stand any chance.
Why is it a threat to the Korean Peninsula and Japan?
South Korea and Japan are close allies of the US. Recently, the US and South Korea conducted several joint military exercises along the border of North Korea. The US has its military bases in Japan. North Korea sees all of these as threats to its sovereignty. As North Korea is equipped with nuclear weapons including the long range ballistic missiles that cover the whole of South Korea and Japan, these two countries will be the first victims in case of any war situation. Japan, South Korea and the US have altogether formed a trilateral front to deal with any uncertainty that may arise as a result of North Korean attacks and such an arrangement is being seen as a provocation by North Korea.