Military build-up on both sides seriously raises possibility of a mistaken decision with disastrous consequences
A man walks past a television showing a news broadcast with file footage of a North Korean missile test, at a railway station in Seoul on Feb. 20, 2023. (Photo: AFP/ UCAN files)
On March 27, North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles toward the waters off its eastern coast, marking yet another escalation in the country’s weapons testing program. The missile tests come at a time when the United States and South Korea are preparing to deploy an aircraft carrier strike group to neighboring waters, raising the stakes in an already volatile region.
The allies have been conducting a series of joint training in recent weeks including air and sea drills involving American B-1B bombers, and their first large-scale amphibious landing exercises in five years.
The current missile tests by North Korea are part of a larger pattern of combat provocations by the leadership that started years ago. North Korea has conducted six nuclear tests since 2006, with the most recent one taking place in 2017. These tests have been widely condemned and have led to increased sanctions against North Korea.
The renegade nation has been also been suspected of carrying out a number of high-profile cyber attacks, including the 2014 Sony Pictures hack and the 2017 WannaCry ransomware attack, which targeted computers running Microsoft Windows by encrypting data and demanding ransom payments in the valuable Bitcoin cryptocurrency.
North Korea has also engaged in a number of border incidents with South Korea, including the sinking of a South Korean warship in 2010 and the shelling of a South Korean island in the same year.
Distracted by the big picture of the war-like provocations we always tend to forget that North Korea has also committed heinous crimes against individual Japanese citizens. They started in 1978 when a Japanese woman named Yaeko Taguchi was abducted by North Korean agents while she was on her way home from work in Niigata, northwest of Japan.
"Kim Jong-un, the country's leader, boasts of possessing a nuclear arsenal and the ability to attack targets as far away as the United States"
This was just a part of a series of abductions carried out by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s, in which Japanese citizens were taken to the hermit kingdom to be used as language and culture trainers for North Korean spies.
It all sounded almost like a spy novel thriller until North Korea eventually admitted to abducting at least 13 Japanese citizens, including Yaeko Taguchi. North Korea later claimed that eight of them had died while five had been allowed to return to Japan.
The Japanese government, however, believes that the true number of abductions is much higher and that some of the abductees may still be alive in North Korea, possibly in their old age and with no way of communicating with their former families.
And as the latest missile tests prove, the country has also a long history of testing its military strength across the Japan Sea.
According to the South Korean military, North Korea conducted a total of 90 missile tests between 2012 and 2019. These tests included various types of missiles, such as short-range, medium-range, and intercontinental ballistic missiles. Then in 2020, over 40 successful tests were conducted while others, an unspecified number, have failed.
North Korea is not the backward nation that it once was, it has now significantly improved its missile technology, and Kim Jong-un, the country's leader, boasts of possessing a nuclear arsenal and the ability to attack targets as far away as the United States.
In response, the United States and its allies, Japan and South Korea, have increased their military presence in the area and engaged in joint military drills to show off their readiness and deterrence capabilities.
Let’s not forget that until 2019 there were annual joint military exercises conducted by the United States and South Korea that typically involved tens of thousands of troops and included both computer-simulated war games and field training exercises, besides a trilateral naval exercise along with Japan, which focused on improving coordination and communication between the three navies.
The recent missile testing has definitely had one achievement — they have increased regional tensions and fueled worries about the likelihood of a potential war.
The security of the region is seriously threatened by the ongoing military tests and the United States and its allies in response are eager to show that they are prepared to address any potential threat. But both sides’ provocative activities and military build-up are seriously raising the possibility of a mistaken decision, a human error.
The failure of a missile launch mid-air could end up in populated areas in Japan or South Korea, which may have disastrous consequences.
*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.
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