The US response to last week’s North Korean claimed test of a hydrogen bomb came this weekend in the form of a low-level flight by a B-52H bomber over the Republic of Korea. The bomber arrived in South Korean airspace for an exercise with allied forces, culminating with a low-level flyover of Osan Air Base with ROKAF fighters in accompaniment. The brief show of force exercise was touted by the US Pacific Command and the White House as an example of the continued US commitment to its allies in the ROK (South Korea) and Japan, as well as its dedication to the peace and stability of the entire region.
It remains to be seen how North Korea will react to the show of force demonstration. However, judging by similar US actions in recent months, it is doubtful there will be a positive reply by Pyongyang. North Korea will likely view the action as a threat and point to it as a justification to expand its saber-rattling in the coming days. The B-52s based at Andersen AFB in Guam have been quite active lately in the show of force role. In November of 2015 a B-52 flew a similar mission over islands constructed by China in the South China Sea and in 2013 B-52s took part in exercises in South Korea, partially in response to North Korean actions at the time.
While the show of force demonstrations succeeded in publicly showcasing the US commitment to its allies, beyond that they have not produced concrete results. China has not been deterred from continuing its activities in the South China Sea and North Korea has certainly not reduced its aggressive rhetoric or actions. The B-52 flyovers are a potent public relations tool but are not providing anything substantial. The deterrence factor is not obviously not working and that single fact is inherently destabilizing to regional security.