The US Trump administration has lived up to its promise to defend its allies, South Korea and Japan, and contain the North Korean crisis by deploying a carrier strike force to the Korean Peninsula. The purpose of the deployment is to shore up peace, not war. The US is working closely with its major partner in this venture, China.
President Donald Trump had a phone conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping about the USS Carl Vinson deployment. The phone call indicated the care and concern both powers have about the region and their willingness to exchange and keep up to date with information on the deployment and events in the region. This is a good opportunity to shore up confidence and trust of all players in the region around a common issue of concern. All stakeholders in this venture have the same goal: peace on the Korean Peninsula and denuclearization.
Both Japan and South Korea are important powers in the region that are keen on ensuing peace for the region and to avoid conflicts. Both countries are working with their principal ally the US to ensure all preparatory defensive measures are up to par and have in the recent past sharpened their coordination in all defensive matters, including but not exclusive to missile tracking, intelligence, drills, and support roles. Both countries also have extensive economic and diplomatic ties with China and have pledged support for peace and diplomatic solutions to the Korean Peninsula crisis.
The long-term worry in the international community is that nuclear tests will contribute to the enhancement of North Korea’s weaponization program, eventually leading to an Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile test or a submarine launched ballistic/cruise missile test (which it had carried out in the recent past). Weaponization of these missile programs and the accompanying nuclearization may directly threaten the US continental landmass.
Complementing welcomed US deterrence and readiness is the responsible major power of China, which is persuading all sides to lower temperatures and begin talks. Both globally responsible powers of the US and China are working hard to shore up deterrence and readiness but giving top priority to persuasion, peace-making and diplomacy. The main objective is to lower temperatures and/or returning to talks. Both countries have shown tremendous restraint, discipline and self-control in dealing with North Korea.
All stakeholders in the region do not want the conflict to escalate but all responsible major powers have put in place conflict containment and mitigation systems to prepare for deterrence. The fear amongst some analysts, commentators and observers is that of an accident or misperception. Misperceptions or accidents carry with them the maximum risk of a full-scale war which nobody wants at the current moment. South Korea may bear the brunt of the North’s artillery and tank battalions in this unlikely and unwanted scenario and currently all responsible major powers including US, China, Japan and Russia are not keen to see this scenario.
Beijing is trying feverishly to pull all parties back from the brink, promising a package that urges Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons ambitions in exchange for Chinese protection. Beijing, as an emerging responsible global power, is warning all parties to desist from actions that can reach a point of no return. The US administration under President Trump is supporting the Chinese efforts. Trump and Xi have built personal rapport after their recent meeting at Mar-a-Lago in the US. Trump have publicly indicated he thinks well of President Xi. The issue of Korean Peninsula tensions has the ability for the two great powers to work together for peace in East Asia. Working together for peace is a no-detriments policy but, if need be, peace may have to be complemented with deterrence, defensive measures, and preparedness.
Beijing, Washington, Tokyo, and Seoul are all fully aware of their overwhelming responsibilities to protect their own people, their allies and regional peace.
Another major power in the neighborhood, Russia, has also come up to call for restraint on the Korean Peninsula and stated its support for a diplomatic solution. Members of Russia’s scientific community have also highlighted the danger of radioactive contamination in the Northeast Asian region should a thermonuclear war take place. In such a scenario, wind direction will become crucial in determining the level and intensity of trans-boundary contamination. That may then become another area that all the responsible major powers in the region can work together on.
The current state of tensions will be an opportune moment to continue preventing the use of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) in the Northeast Asian region. The THAAD, Pac3, Patriots, Phase Array radars, ship-based Aegis systems, Chu-SAMs and other air defence and area defence systems are the first line of defence against WMDs. They are deployed by responsible global powers to protect their own citizens.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in a press conference after a meeting with his French counterpart sounded the warning of war clouds. US Vice President Mike Pence is also making important efforts at communicating with allies, and arrived in South Korea on April 16, 2017. His presence is reassuring for allies in Seoul and Tokyo as the three powers show solidarity in pursuing peace and implementing defensive measures should peace not prevail.
Peace is most important for the residents of Seoul which hosts half of South Korea’s 50 million population. Seoul is near the De-Militarized Zone (DMZ) which is heavily fortified on the North Korean side with massive artillery and tank firepower. In such scenarios, the deployment of THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system) is increasingly seen as an appropriate defensive measure.
The extraordinary situation on the Korean Peninsula has seen Beijing, Washington, and Tokyo making important responsible choices that reflect their important global roles in the region. South Korea’s maximum restraint, alertness, and close communications with their American and Japanese allies also indicate the dynamic coordination capabilities of the rapidly rising middle power. All thoughts are on peace and a stand-down from a Mexican stand-off. But if peace efforts break down, the same responsible powers are ready and mobilized in place to deal with the aftermath. Beijing, Washington, Tokyo, and Seoul are all fully aware of their overwhelming responsibilities to protect their own people, their allies and regional peace.
Washington, Beijing, Tokyo, Moscow, and Seoul have the collective wisdom for peace in the region. If this tension is resolved, it represents a giant step for major power cooperation in contemporary world history. If the tension is not resolved, working together to mitigate and cope with the aftermath — the projected (and feared) massive refugee outflow, potential chemical weapons’ environmental fallout, possible nuclear contamination, reconstruction of battered economies and infrastructure, rebuilding of trust and cooperation — will be another opportunity for major power and middle power cooperation.