Tensions Rising on the Korean Peninsula

Analysts say the frictions are raising the specter of nuclear war.

Tuesday at 4 p.m. Korean time, South Korea fired roughly 90 machine-gun rounds at an unidentified object that had entered its airspace. It is believed North Korea launched the object. Though South Korea hasn’t confirmed contact, the object did disappear from radars after the volley of shots were fired.

South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff are now investigating if the object did indeed enter South Korean airspace and if that object was a drone, as experts believe it was.

This event comes just a day after a high-level North Korean defector told South Korean officials that North Korea possesses 300 to 400 drones. These drones are reportedly capable of delivering both biological and chemical weapons to the South Korean capital of Seoul within an hour of launching. South Korea’s resolute response to the object may have been so severe in light of this new information.

This event comes amid a time of rapidly rising concern over North Korea’s illegal missile and nuclear weapon programs. Kim Jong-un’s administration has been testing missiles with increasing frequency. In response to the growing tension, United States President Donald Trump says he believes that “major, major conflict with North Korea” is probable in order to neutralize the threat.

The United States is South Korea’s main ally with about 28,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea. Concern has rippled throughout the region all the way to Washington, D.C.

The recent event coincides with a report from MIT International Security magazine stating that low-fatality nuclear strikes are now possible. The report found that advances and changes in the accuracy of targeting have made it possible to take out all of North Korea’s major weapons sites with as few as 20 of its B-61 nuclear bombs while only incurring as few as 100 casualties. Because of this, policymakers in the U.S. believe that the risks involved in destroying sites in North Korea are far lower than they have been in the past. Nuclear strikes are now seen as a possibility to include in U.S. policy.

This would represent a big change. The U.S. has followed a policy of no first use with regards to nuclear weapons to date. Changing to such a policy would make it impossible to predict how the ensuing conflict would end and which nations would get involved.

The day after the shots were fired from South Korea, President Trump told Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte that the U.S. had two nuclear submarines in the waters off the Korean Peninsula. Making this public knowledge could make North Korea feel cornered and heighten tensions in Asia. This brings the previously unthinkable possibility of nuclear weapons being used in the near future into the realm of reality.