Faced with increasing provocation from North Korea, Washington is planning to deploy an aircraft carrier in the Sea of Japan as a show of force if Pyongyang carries out its first nuclear test in years. But with no concrete means to control provocations by the Kim Jong-Un regime – and Beijing and Moscow being unwilling to play along – there is little Washington’s gunboat diplomacy can expect to achieve.
Apart from deploying an aircraft carrier, a decision that will be taken in alignment with Japan and South Korea, the Biden administration is also reportedly preparing to draft a U.N. Security Council resolution, reported Tokyo-based Kyodo News, quoting unnamed sources with knowledge of the matter.
While the security council resolution is aimed at strengthening sanctions on North Korea, Washington is also preparing to release a statement, along with other G7 members, condemning Pyongyang, the news agency reported.
Pyongyang is believed to have made preparations for its seventh nuclear test, which would be its first since September 2017.
Intelligence agencies in the U.S., South Korea and Japan have been closely monitoring North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site, where Pyongyang conducted all six of its underground nuclear tests between 2006 and 2017. Reports say preparations at the site’s underground nuclear test tunnel have been completed for the seventh test.
When North Korea tested a nuclear bomb in 2017, the explosion at its Punggye-ri site generated a blast yield of between 100-370 kilotons. A 100-kiloton bomb is six times more powerful than the one the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.
A 2017 report in the Washington Post, citing a confidential intelligence assessment, said North Korea had crossed a key threshold on the path to becoming a full-fledged nuclear power by successfully producing a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit inside its missiles.
North Korea launched ballistic missiles at an unprecedented scale this year, including the failed launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile. Pyongyang on Monday said the missile launches were simulated strikes on South Korea and the United States.
Economic sanctions and international condemnations have, however, failed to exert pressure on North Korea to stop its nuclear and missile programs or to force Pyongyang back to the negotiating table. Global isolation has instead helped Pyongyang become more aggressive, with the U.S. blaming China and Russia for enabling the Kim Jong-un regime.
In early October, Washington accused Beijing and Moscow of protecting Pyongyang from attempts to strengthen sanctions imposed on its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.
“The DPRK (North Korea) has enjoyed blanket protection from two members of this council,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said last month. “In short, two permanent members of the Security Council have enabled Kim Jong Un.”
Meanwhile, an increasingly belligerent Pyongyang condemned the recent joint military drills by South Korea and the U.S. as an “open provocation and dangerous war drill.”
North Korea’s state news agency KCNA on Monday quoted the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army saying Pyongyang would continue to respond to military exercises by the U.S. and allies with “sustained, resolute and overwhelming practical military measures.”
To dissuade Pyongyang amid the provocations, the U.S. is pursuing its agenda of “integrated deterrence,” a key part of Washington’s national security strategy that aims to make the costs of aggression clear through its instruments of national power in coordination with allies. But, considering North Korea’s repeated provocations and missile tests, the U.S. strategy may not mean much on the ground.
North Korea recently passed a law enshrining the right to use preemptive nuclear strikes to protect itself. “There is absolutely no such thing as giving up nuclear weapons first, and there is no denuclearization and no negotiation,” Kim said in September.
Under the law, passed by the country’s rubber-stamp parliament, North Korea will carry out a preventive nuclear strike “automatically” and “immediately to destroy hostile forces” when a foreign country poses an imminent threat to the country or its dictator.