Following the addition of Kim Jong Un to the US list of sanctioned individuals, North Korean diplomats have declared that Washington has “crossed the red line.” The North Korean diplomats further noted the sanctioning as a “declaration of war.” Despite claims of a “vicious” showdown on the peninsula should the US and South Korea conduct its annual summer exercise, officials at the Pentagon have stated there are no plans to halt the training. On 3 August 2016, the North Koreans fired two intermediate-range ballistic missiles. One missile exploded shortly after its launch, while the second missile landed 155 miles west of Japan’s Oga Peninsula. The recent launches have been part of a series of tests by the North Koreans, who have declared they are simulating attacks on South Korea.
In response to the growing ballistic missile threat from North Korea, the US will begin deploying Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile systems to South Korea. The THAAD systems are designed to engage ballistic missiles and will be an integral part of America’s defensive strategy for the region. The move of THAAD systems to South Korea has drawn condemnation from China (North Korea’s closest ally), who also stated the recent missile tests by North Korea are a result of American provocation.
While the recent saber-rattling by North Korea has been par for the course, there is a very real prospect of a large-scale conflict erupting again on the Korean peninsula. Despite UN sanctions against North Koreas proliferation of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, the most recent missile launch exposes the danger South Korea and Japan faces from North Korea. Should one of these missiles strike either of those countries (whether nuclear or conventionally armed), there will be a military response.
The US currently has over 28,000 military personnel stationed in South Korea. These troops will most likely serve as a stop-gap measure should North Korea attack across the border. Their numbers are too small to launch a pre-emptive strike (the US deployed over 190,000 soldiers for the initial attack on Iraq during 2003s Operation Iraqi Freedom). Although air and cruise missile strikes would not be out of the question should it appear North Korea is preparing for a nuclear strike. With the US election of a new president in November, expect North Korea to test how far they can go with the new administration.