Despite its belligerence towards the West and the United States in particular, North Korea has for a long time benefited from US food aid. In fact, according to the US State Department, North Korea received $1 million in humanitarian aid following the damages caused by typhoon Lionrock in 2016. From the US perspective, humanitarian aid has always come as a way to convince the North Korean leadership to abandon its nuclear ambitions. This “food for nukes” strategy proved to be a disaster as Pyongyang continues to put forth bellicose rhetoric.
Kim Jon Un has repeatedly threatened to use nuclear weapons on its southern border, as well as the United States. The North Korean leadership has shown that it is willing to improve its nuclear capabilities at all costs. That is evidenced by multiple missiles test conducted in the last two years despite warnings by the international community as a whole, including China. This of course prompted the United States to respond by deploying the Carl Vinson Strike Group, comprisedof an aircraft carrier and other warships, in theregion. North Korea on its part said on April 15 that it is “prepared to respond to an all-out-war with an all-out war” according to Choe Ryong-Hae, who is believed to be second in command in the country.
Even though agitation and provocation are customary tactics on North Korea’s part, there are reasons why we should be worried. President Trump has demonstrated on two separate occasions his willingness to use US military might to achieve his political end. One use of US hard power occurred on April 7 as a response to Syrian president’s use of chemical weapons. The other instance of display of American military power took place in Afghanistan when the so called “mother of all bomb” was dropped on a tunnel, obliterating ISIS targets in the process.
Furthermore, military experts argue that North Korea is getting closer to possessing Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMS). This would obviously further increase tensions in the peninsula and possibly cause US allies such as Japan and South Korea to develop their own ICBMS.
China is growing impatient with the North Korean regime and is possibly considering contingencies plan. On April 10, China moved 150,000 troops to its border with North Korea to potentially prevent an inflow of refugees in case of war. At the same time, President Xi urged both parties (US and North Korea) to takea "cool-headed" approach to escalating tensions with North Korea
Clearly, China has much to lose in a war in the Korean peninsula as it will be forced to participate in the conflict in order to prevent a democratic Korea on its border. Some experts are even suggesting that China may be willing to take matters in its own hands and forcibly remove Kim Jon Un and replace him with a “friendlier” leader. moreover, Russia shares a border with North Korea and may get involved as well.
No one knows at this point when the first shots will be fired. However, the potential for escalation and conflict in the region is as high as it’s ever been.