The Forgotten Party of the North Korean Conflict

The Forgotten Party of the North Korean Conflict

It has been almost 65 years since the armistice of the Korean War was signed on July 27th 1953.  Since then, North Korea and South Korea, as well as a contingent of U.S. forces, have stood at the edge of the demilitarized zone, preparing for a possible breakout of hostilities between North Korea and the U.S.-South Korean alliance. While peace was achieved with the armistice in 1953, relations with North Korea and the outside world have been difficult. Following the death of his father, Kim Jong-Un took power of the nation in 2011, and since then Kim’s rhetoric has been verging South Korea and North Korea closer to war. Kim Jong-Un has encouraged the expansion of the land and naval forces of the North Korean military, increased research and testing of the country’s first nuclear missiles, and made threats against the international community,especially towards the United States.  

Following the 2017 inauguration of President Trump, relations between North Korea and the U.S. have been deteriorating. Since taking office, President Trump and Chairman Kim have had increasingly threatening rhetoric, including using social media to threaten the destruction of each other’s country.  These escalations have gone as far as in January 2, 2018 President Trump tweeted, “North Korean leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the ‘Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.’ Will someone from his depleted and ford starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful than his, and my Button works!”(Trump) While many experts had previously predicted that military action could soon break out between the three countries, this hypothesis seems to have changed as South Korea and North Korea have begun taking steps toward a permanent peace.

March 2018 came with surprising news; on March 5th and 6th, following the visit to North Korea by Chung Eui-yong, the director of National Security office South Korean President, and Suh Hoons, the director of South Korea’s national intelligence service, the two countries made an agreement to meet in late April in order to bring forward the topic of the denuclearization of  North Korea. News of the planned meeting has come as a shock to the international community, especially after more than a year of escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula. North Korea has spent the last several years testing nuclear weapons that has resulted in an international response to include the repositioning of carrier battle groups and military deterrent exercises in the region. Following the increasing number of successful rocket test by the North Korean military, missile alarms have gone off in Japan, South Korea, and Hawaii that have caused widespread panic across the Pacific Rim. More recently, it has come to the world’s attention of the possibility of a seperate summit between the U.S. and North Korea, and hopefully a trilateral summit between the three nations that will lead to a permanent peace.

The possibility of these summits has led to speculation as to whether neighboring countries should take part in these talks with North Korea, specifically Japan. Increasing alarm and panic has spread in Japan over the possibility of being a nuclear target by North Korean leadership; after several missiles launches in late 2017 over Japanese airspace sent citizens to seek shelter. These unfolding events in the name of  a possible peace in the region may, however, strain the already difficult relationship between Japan and the United States. Japanese Prime Minister Abe, who has been a critic of North Korean negotiations for many years, may see any possibility of Japanese-North Korean talks as a chance to further protect his country. However, the current political situation deems that the U.S. and South Korea should be the countries meeting with North Korea. Therefore, Japan’s stance at the negotiating table will have to be represented by the U.S. and South Korean delegations, who have underestimated the defensive capabilities of Japan’s Self Defense Force in its ability to protect and retaliate following a first strike.

The biggest problem Japan may face in these upcoming talks is the lack of direct representation. After years of being in range of North Korean conventional forces, the priority of Japan must be complete denuclearization of North Korea. Japan, who has let their national defense falter for some years through limited modernization of their self defense force, is now realizing that the alliance with the U.S. may require Japan to increase its defense capabilities in order to protect its own citizens. The upcoming increase of  2.3% to the defense budget for Japan (5.05 trillion yen), has led to the question of whether the threat from North Korea could be used in order to bolster Japanese military forces who have also been at conflict with China over territory in the East China Sea. While the current expansion of the Japanese Self Defense Force has been regarded as unconstitutional, the current situation in the region may require Japan to project its capabilities in such a fashion that would deter North Korea from a first strike and prevent events such as the missile launches of late 2017 and the false missile alarm earlier this year. With this said, the number one priority in the upcoming meetings for South Korea and the U.S. should be on the focus of denuclearization of North Korea, while ensuring and representing the safety of the Japanese people in the upcoming talks.

Sources:

Watkins, Eli. “Trump Taunts North Korea: My Nuclear Button Is 'Much Bigger,' 'More Powerful'.” CNN, 3 Jan. 2018, www.cnn.com/2018/01/02/politics/donald-trump-north-korea-nuclear/index.html.

Smith, Sheila A. “What a U.S.–North Korean Summit Means for Japan.” Foreign Affairs, 14 Mar. 2018, www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/japan/2018-03-14/what-us-north-korean-summit-means-japan.

Choi, David. “Japan May Be Feeling Left out as the US and South Korea Prepare to Meet with North Korea's Kim Jong-Un .” Buissness Insider, 22 Mar. 2018, www.businessinsider.com/japan-north-korea-meeting-shinzo-abe-kim-jong-un-2018-3.

TASS. “North Korea, US, South Korea May Hold Trilateral Summit.” TASS, 21 Mar. 2018, tass.com/world/995334.

Reuters. “Japan's Defense Ministry Is Seeking a Record Budget For Next Year.” Fortune, 20 Aug. 2016, fortune.com/2016/08/20/japan-defense-ministry-budget-2017/.

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