For the first time since tensions began to rise between the United States and North Korea, Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers from Guam and Air Force F-15C Eagle fighter escorts from Okinawa, Japan flew alongside the Korean peninsula north of the demilitarized zone over the weekend. Although the aircraft remained in international airspace, this marks the furthest north, and arguably the most provocative of a series of show of force flights conducted by American or allied aircraft thus far in the burgeoning conflict.
The possibility of war with North Korea has once again been at the forefront of many American minds, as rhetoric between the leaders of each nation has heightened in recent weeks. President Trump’s use of social media platforms like Twitter to bolster his diplomatic outreach resulted in North Korea’s Foreign Minister, Ri Yong Ho, announcing that the United States had “declared war” on Kim’s nation on Monday. President Trump claimed that Kim “won’t be around much longer” if North Korea continued on its provocative path in the tweet the North Korean diplomat took issue with. Ri Yong Ho went on to claim that as a result of that supposed declaration, North Korea now had the right to shoot down American aircraft even before they entered the nation’s airspace.
Following the bomber flight past North Korea, Kim Jong un’s regime reportedly began reinforcing its anti-aircraft defenses along the nation’s East Coast, seeming to indicate that they may make good on their threats if provoked further.
“The whole world should clearly remember it was the U.S. who first declared war on our country,” Ri said to reporters outside the UN on Monday. “The question of who won’t be around much longer will be answered then.”
White House Spokeswoman Sarah Sanders dismissed North Korean claims that Trump declared war in a press conference held later that same day, calling the suggestion “absurd,” and in what is developing to be a classic Chinese response to tensions on the Korean peninsula, Chinese officials took both parties to task over their aggressive positions.
We hope the U.S. and North Korean politicians have sufficient political judgment to realize that resorting to military force will never be a viable way to resolve the peninsula issue and their own concerns,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters, adding that war on the Korean Peninsula would result in “no winners.”
China’s Foreign Minister did agree that preventing North Korea’s nuclear ambitions from progressing was an “urgent task” speaking on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York on Monday, but added that it was especially important to “prevent resorting to arms.”
Despite their diplomatic tone, China is perhaps the only nation with sufficient economic leverage to force Kim Jong un’s hand in the matter. Some 90% of North Korea’s import and export markets reside in China, and although the nation has claimed to adhere to UN sanctions placed on North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, they have actually seen an uptick in trade since tensions began to increase, indicating that China’s foreign policy may not actually be in keeping with its peaceful rhetoric.
Although President Trump has repeatedly warned that the United States may be forced to “destroy” North Korea, his Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, has maintained a decidedly more stoic approach to the potential for armed conflict, claiming that the UN sanctions have worked to develop international support for the American cause, as well as putting a strangle hold on the nation’s finances.
“You have seen unanimous United Nations Security Council resolutions passed that have increased the pressure, economic pressure and diplomatic pressure, on the North, and at the same time, we maintain the capability to deter North Korea’s most dangerous threats,” he told reporters during a stop in India on Monday.
Image courtesy of the Department of Defense