Tensions on the Korean peninsula have continued trending upward in recent days. North Korean missile tests and artillery exercises conducted in response to US/ROK military exercises currently underway have set off warning alarms in the capitals of South Korean, Japan and the United States. North Korea’s increasingly overt material support for Russia’s war in Ukraine is now attracting a growing amount of attention from the rest of the world. Opinion on North Korea’s long-term goal is divided between two camps. One cross-section of diplomats, politicians, journalists and analysts believes the North’s actions are intended lead up to a nuclear test at some point in the near future. A second group is equally convinced Kim Jong Un is simply biding his time and testing the waters, so to speak. When the time is right, he will order a ballistic missile test with a Hwasong-17 ICBM and follow it up with a nuclear test.
Both theories hold water, although a series of variables are coming into play which could affect timing of a nuclear test by the North, from China’s rising COVID-19 infection rate to the war in Ukraine, and even perhaps the results of today’s US elections. At the end of the day however, it could simply come down to the whim of North Korea’s leader. Whenever he feels the time is right, he’ll move. Regardless of what is taking place in other parts of the world.
There has been some discussion on North Korea’s arms shipments to Russia, and whether or not they are in violation of the sanctions currently in place against the North. Even if a violation has occurred, there is little the UN can do about it. China and Russia are permanent UN Security Council members and will run interference to prevent further sanctions from impacting North Korea.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s possible trip to Taiwan next month is the latest potential flashpoint in the Western Pacific. Beijing is warning Pelosi to cancel the trip and is attempting to put pressure on Washington to prevent the third-highest ranking official in the US government from visiting Taiwan. Over the weekend Financial Times reported that China has delivered warnings to US officials about the trip. According to sources, the warnings were stronger than the threats Beijing generally makes when it is unhappy with US policy or actions in the region. The fact that these warnings were given in private suggest the possibility of a Chinese military response to the trip.
At the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s regular Monday press conference, the spokesman told reporters “We are seriously prepared,” when he was asked about the report. “If the U.S. is bent on going its own way, China will take firm and strong measures to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity.” China’s tactics are pure intimidation at this point, intended to make Washington back down. The Taiwanese government is watching events closely.
Right now, Taipei is caught between two chairs. If Pelosi’s visit takes place as planned, China could punish Taiwan for it. On the other hand, if the trip is canceled it undermines Taiwan’s security and appears to give China a voice in US-Taiwan policy. There’s a growing number of Taiwanese who are skeptical about the US commitment to Taiwan. As the threat from China grows, this cross-section of Taiwanese voters is sure to have more influence at the polls. To minimize skepticism, the US government needs to reassure Taiwan’s population that its commitment to their nation’s security is firm.
Decades-old tension between the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Rwanda are providing fuel for a diplomatic crisis that is threatening to escalate. Last month, M-23 rebels began an offensive against Congo. The Congolese government accuses Rwanda of supporting the rebels. The Rwandan government, however, denies any ties with M-23, which is made up largely of members of the Tutsi ethnic group. Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame is also a Tutsi. Congo has also directly accused Rwanda of making incursions across the border and vice versa. The new batch of tension is causing alarm in East Africa. So much so that Kenya is urging the deployment of a regional peacekeeping force to the border area.
Congolese rhetoric has grown sharper in recent days, as the government seeking to suspend all current agreements with Rwanda. If Rwanda wants war, “it will have war,” a spokesman for the military governor of Congo’s North Kivu province told thousands of protesters earlier in the week.
This morning the crisis escalated further when the DRC government ordered Congo’s border with Rwanda closed after a Congolese soldier was killed while attacking borders guards inside Rwandan territory. Two Rwandan police officers were injured when the Congolese soldier crossed the border and opened fire, before an officer on duty fired back and killed him 25 meters inside Rwanda, the Rwandan military said in a statement. The incident is being investigated further by the DRC and Rwanda, yet tensions appear likely to continue rising.
Admittedly, I have not kept up with the events in East Africa recently and this crisis has taken me a bit by surprise. I’ll keep an eye on it and do some research to try and get a better feel for the history behind the DNC-Rwanda tensions as well as this present crisis.
Wary of what the Swedish Armed Forces’ Commander of Joint Operations referred to as ‘extensive military activity in the Baltic Sea’ at present Sweden is moving to raise its military readiness. Both Russia, and NATO have been holding sizeable exercises, and running patrol operations in the Baltic region of late. The scale of activity has been on a level not seen since the Cold War. This, coupled with the uncertainty of the ongoing global pandemic, and disputed election in Belarus is creating a heightened security situation in the Baltic. The Swedes are rightfully growing concerned and this latest move is intended to send a signal to friend and foe alike that Sweden stands prepared to defend its sovereignty.
It goes without saying, however, that the signal is intended more for Moscow’s benefit rather than Washington’s, or London’s.
Sweden has not been shy about publicizing its deployments. On Tuesday, Swedish television broadcast video footage of armored vehicles arriving on Gotland amid vacationing families, and other tourists. In Stockholm, the Swedish government has been careful not to connect its military moves with the unrest taking place in Belarus. It has admitted the ongoing Russian military exercises are what finally moved Sweden to take action. Along with the armored vehicles, a number of Gripen fighter planes have also been deployed to Gotland. In the Baltic Sea, four Swedish corvettes are presently exercising with the Finnish Navy. Other nations are also moving military pieces around the Scandinavian chessboard. Over the weekend a US special operations aircraft landed on Gotland for a period of time, and farther north Norwegian F-16s, and US Air Force B-52s exercised together over the Arctic.
After Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Sweden became concerned about Russia’s intentions in the Baltic, and Europe. Following years of declining defense budgets, Sweden reversed course and started to spend more money on defense. Since 2014 the size and capabilities of the Swedish armed forces have increased with Russia now seen as an unfriendly, potentially hostile Baltic neighbor. Sweden remains unaligned, and neutral in most regards but that has not prevented Swedish forces from taking part in exercises and engaging in closer military relations with a number of NATO nations.
Vladimir Putin is not taking the possibility of fresh US sanctions lightly. With sanctions legislation aimed at Russia about to land on President Trump’s desk, the Russian leader understands perfectly well that Trump is not going to veto the bill and send it back to the House. The legislation will be signed and a new round of US sanctions against Russia will be set in place. Putin has opted to retaliate before the legislation is even signed, and to do so in a fashion which guarantees a US response.
On Sunday Putin announced that the US diplomatic mission to Russia will have to reduce its staff by 755 personnel by 1 September. The reduction in US staff had been announced on Friday, however, today’s announcement was the first to include concrete numbers. Russia also made it known that it would seize two US diplomatic properties in Russia, a move similar to action the US took against Russian properties in America this past December. Putin also added, somewhat ominously, that further retaliation will come if the sanctions are passed.
Since January, the Trump administration and its Russian counterparts had been hoping for an improvement in US-Russia relations. It was not to be following accusations that Russia had interfered in the 2016 US presidential election. The accusations have contributed directly to the creation of sanctions and a straining of the relationship between Moscow and Washington. Now, the tit-for-tat exchange is on the verge of escalating. President Trump could very well decide to let these sanctions act as the US response to Sunday’s announcement by Putin. Yet, if further action is taken by Russia, it will result in a proportionate response by the US. If this keeps up into the fall, the United States and Russia might find themselves in a nasty diplomatic scrap, with very few exit options.
*Author’s note: Regrettably, Today’s Dirt will not be posting Part II of the ‘The Case For Military Action Against North Korea.’ My employer has requested that I refrain from writing and posting any articles centered on North Korea and potential US military action against it for a period of time given what is happening right now. I understand the reasons for my employer to ask this of me, and have agreed. After Labor Day, we will revisit the issue and hopefully can work something out. I apologize. *