How Will the Ukraine War Affect the Korean Peninsula?
The arms race on the Korean Peninsula will linger following the Ukraine crisis. North Korea tested a cruise missile as part of an effort to develop its reconnaissance satellite system on February 27; it may conduct more satellite launches in the coming weeks while U.S. attention is focused on Eastern Europe.
Also, if the United States and South Korea conduct joint military drills in March or April as planned, North Korea may test an improved version of the Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) as a countermeasure, as the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he no longer felt bound by his self-moratorium on nuclear and ICBM tests. Pyongyang may also consider an ICBM test to send a strong signal after the new South Korean president takes office in May.
When North Korea conducted nuclear and ballistic missile tests in 2017, the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) unanimously supported imposing further sanctions against North Korea. However, China and Russia blocked the UNSC in January from imposing sanctions on five North Koreans who are involved in the North’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and ballistic missile developments. They will likely block any similar U.S. push to impose sanctions on North Korea again in the coming months, even if it tests nuclear devices or ballistic missiles.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in has kept sending messages to the North that dialogue is the only way that can establish permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula. However, as Moon’s peace process has de facto ended with no substantive results on denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, it will be up to the next South Korean president to tackle the issue. The two leading presidential candidates have explicitly different approaches to North Korea.
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