In recent times, the Korean peninsula has become a focal point of international concern, giving rise to serious apprehensions regarding the deterioration of the global security landscape and an escalation of major power rivalry. 

More about the News: 

  • There has been a notable uptick in provocative moves by North Korea and the subsequent rebuttals by South Korea and its allies. 
  • North Korea has rescinded its national objective of Korean reunification and has formally categorized South Korea as an adversarial state. 
  • North Korea has also ramped up the frequency and diversity of its missile tests, expanding its strategic capabilities. 
  • South Korea has responded to these actions through joint military drills with the U.S. and Japan. 

Contemporary Geopolitical Issues in the Korean Peninsula: 

  • The issue of North Korea’s denuclearization has been a persistent concern on the Korean peninsula.
  • North Korea’s nuclear aspirations were delayed briefly from 1994 to 2002 when the U.S. entered into an “Agreed Framework”, thus pausing its nuclear program in exchange for nuclear energy. 
  • However, the agreement failed and North Korea went ahead with its nuclear test in 2006 after withdrawing from the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 2003. 
  • In 2003 itself, another initiative called the six-party talks involving the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia, and the U.S. commenced for denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula. 
  • By 2009, the talks broke down completely and North Korea came out of it with a vow to never return. 

Ever since Kim Jong Un assumed leadership in North Korea, there has been an annual increase in missile tests, marking a consistent trend. 

  • Over the last two decades, North Korea has conducted six nuclear weapons tests, and has also tested and deployed delivery systems, space launchers, and satellites. 
  • North Korea is believed to possess the ability to even target the U.S. mainland with its nuclear arsenal, and has also emerged as a significant source of global cyber-attacks. 

South Korea on its part has strengthened its military alliance with the U.S., becoming an integral part of the broader alliance system. This includes hosting not only U.S. troops but also advanced missile defense systems. 

About Korean Peninsula 

Division and Ideological Differences

  • Following World War II and the defeat of Japan, the Korean Peninsula was split in two.
  • The northern half fell under the influence of the Soviet Union, while the southern half came under the control of the United States.
  • This division led to the creation of two Koreas with contrasting ideologies, reflecting the opposing forces of the Cold War.

The Korean Divide: Ideology and Geopolitics

  • The Korean War (1950-53), sparked by the North’s invasion, served as the Cold War’s first “hot war.”

After the end of the Cold War and cessation of active conflicts, even today, the Korean peninsula remains split along ideological and geopolitical lines. 

  • The North, under an authoritarian dynasty, aligns with China and Russia.
  • In contrast, the South embraces a liberal democracy and partners with the US. 
  • In July 2016, American and South Korean military officials announced the deployment of the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in the country following ballistic missile and nuclear tests by North Korea. 

Recent effort towards thawing of relation: 

  • The Donald Trump administration attempted peace talks with North Korea, aiming for denuclearization. 
  • Between 2018 and 2019, the leaders met three times for peace discussions. However, the talks failed, leading Kim to resume developing and testing delivery systems. 

Causes for latest aggravations: 

New declaration of North Korea: In his address to the Supreme People’s Assembly, Kim Jong Un has scrapped the decades-old North Korean goal of reunifying with the South, and has rebranded South Korea as an enemy state. 

  • Ordered the rewriting of the North Korean constitution to align with this new stance. 
  • Closed offices associated with reunification and brought down a landmark monument in Pyongyang symbolizing the reunification ideal. 

Development of Hypersonic Missile System: North Korea also tested a solid fuelled missile carrying a hypersonic warhead in January 2024. This is significant because major military powers across the world (eg. U.S., Russia, China, India, and Iran) are in a race for developing, testing, and deploying hypersonic weapons. 

  • These weapons can theoretically provide countries the capability to evade and even target the missile defence systems of their adversaries. 

Regional Responses after North Korea Provocations: 

Joint exercise: The U.S., South Korea, and Japan have conducted joint naval drills in response to North Korea’s provocations, involving nine warships. 

  • The exercises are meant to enhance their joint effectiveness against North Korea’s missile and underwater threats, as well as its illegal maritime shipment of arms.

North Korea’s allegation and retaliation: North Korea accused these drills of being offensive rehearsals, not defensive, and tested its “Haeil-5-23” nuclear-capable underwater drone in response to these joint naval drills. 

  • It also tested its strategic cruise missile, the “Pulhwasal-3-31”, posing a potential threat to crucial American bases in Japan. 

Trilateral cooperation: The South Korean govt. has adopted a strategy to closely coordinate efforts with the U.S. and Japan to deter and counter North Korea’s aggressive moves. 

  • In a historic meeting, the three countries met at Camp David in Washington D.C. in August 2023 to initiate a new era of trilateral cooperation. 

International Security Concerns: 

Rising tension in the Korean Peninsula: Amid global conflicts like Russia-Ukraine, Israel-Palestine, and simmering tensions in China-Taiwan and India-China, there’s a surge in tension in the Korean Peninsula. 

  • This is a significant concern as key external stakeholders of the Korean peninsula (the U.S., China, and Russia) are engaged in these rivalries. 

Deepening Alliances: North Korea’s deepening ties with China and Russia, and South Korea’s increasing entrenchment in the U.S. alliance system, imply a significant linkage with ongoing conflicts. 

  • Sino-Russian support for North Korea: Russia has boosted its engagement with North Korea in the wake of the Russia-Ukraine war, with promises of enhancing North Korea’s space capabilities in exchange for arms supplies. 
  • Despite heightened tensions, China, as North Korea’s largest trading partner, reaffirms its unwavering support to North Korea.
  • Opening of a “third front”: At a time when the U.S. is preoccupied with Russia-Ukraine and the Israel-Hamas, North Korea has created a distraction for the U.S. by opening a “third front” on the Korean Peninsula. 

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