All year long, North Korea and the U.S.-South Korea alliance have engaged in tit-for-tat exchanges of military provocation, and tensions have steadily increased. And this week, North Korea’s missile launches and U.S.-South Korean military exercises have brought tensions on the Korean Peninsula to a new and quite dangerous level. Washington and Seoul conducted their largest-ever air drills, and a North Korean ballistic missile landed off the South Korean coast for the first time. Seoul immediately retaliated by firing back a record number of missiles off the North Korean coast.
Amid the continued escalation, North Korea has been preparing for its seventh nuclear test since early this year and is believed by some to be ready to pull the trigger anytime. In response, Washington and Seoul have ramped up their military exercises and deployments around the Korean Peninsula as a show of strong resolve and warning. Each side is flexing its military muscles in a cycle of tit-for-tat provocations that carry intolerable risks.
This saber-rattling will likely lead to severe crises and drastically increase the risk of an armed conflict on the peninsula. In order to reduce tensions and avert worse crises, Washington and Seoul must end this dangerous confrontational spiral and take all actions necessary to re-engage Pyongyang in diplomacy and dialogue.
One cannot dismiss the possibility that the unprecedented level of deterrence signaling by the U.S.-South Korean side affects Pyongyang’s calculation and dissuades it from escalating further. The underlying intent here is to demonstrate a superior level of resolve against the North Korean threat and compel Pyongyang to de-escalate. But such a reactive policy can backfire.
Read the full piece in The National Interest.