South Korean soldiers stand guard in fog at the truce village of Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone dividing North and South Korea (AFP Photo / Jung Yeon-Je)
Alexei Fenenko, Valdai, April 19, 2013
This spring has been marked by an unprecedented escalation of tensions on the Korean peninsula. The crisis began when North Korea launched the Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite on December 12. The UN Security Council accused North Korea of conducting a covert ballistic missile test and imposed fresh sanctions on the country. North Korea responded by testing its third nuclear device: a roughly 5 kiloton bomb was detonated on February 12. On March 11, Pyongyang announced its withdrawal from the 1953 armistice agreement. On March 30, North Korean leaders declared that the country was entering a “state of war” with the South. While there is no imminent threat of armed conflict between the two Koreas, it is now much more likely than it was one and a half or two years ago.
The present situation differs from the “nuclear alarms” of 1994 and 2003. In those cases, it was the United States who threatened North Korea with air strikes on its nuclear facilities, whereas now the United States, as well as their allies in the region, Japan and South Korea, are reacting to Pyongyang. Our understanding of when a nuclear weapon could be used, formed in the second half of the 20th century, is less and less relevant in today’s political reality.