by Neil Harris
South Korean military provocations directed at the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea are a regular event and usually increase during the annual spring military manoeuvres, conducted jointly with the United States. This year has been different, both in the ferocity of the southern rhetoric and the way in which it has been backed up by American nuclear threats.
On the 18th March, Pentagon press secretary George Little told reporters that on 8th March B-52 bombers from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam had flown to south Korea to simulate a nuclear attack on the DPRK during war games known as Exercise Foal Eagle.
In a co-ordinated statement the same day, US Deputy Defence secretary Ashton Carter confirmed during his visit to south Korea observing the military exercises, that the B-52 flights are part of the US Pacific Command programme called “Continuous Bomber Presence”. Little said: “We will continue to fly these training missions as part of our ongoing actions to enhance our strategic posture in the Asia-Pacific region.”
Confirming the B52’s nuclear role he continued: “The Foal Eagle manoeuvres will highlight both the nuclear and conventional capabilities of the B-52s.” He then stated that further flights would happen the next day.
He didn’t have that much choice, as earlier in the month two Russian military aircraft identified as TU-95 “bears”, were seen circling Guam, no doubt observing preparations for the nuclear element of the exercises which began in early March as part of the “Key Resolve” manoeuvres. A second round of exercises known as Foal Eagle will continue until the end of April.
Carter then confirmed that despite “The Pivot”, the Obama administration’s shift of military priorities away from the Middle East and towards confronting China and Russia in the Pacific Rim, their occupation of the southern “Republic of Korea” (ROK) would continue: “The Asia-Pacific rebalance is a priority. It’s a historic priority. We have the resources to accomplish it and no matter what happens in the budget debates that go on in the United States, our commitment to the Asia-Pacific rebalance and our commitment to the United States-ROK Alliance will remain firm.”
The American posturing was further ramped up by the south Korean newspaper, JoongAng Ilbo on the 13th March when it quoted an unnamed “senior government official”: “we need to have a nuclear weapon near the Korean Peninsula”. The official continued; “Among various options — our own development, adoption of tactical nuclear weapons and utilising the US nuclear umbrella — the third is the most realistic.”
The official didn’t specify where the nuclear weapons were and gave the false impression that the US puppets in the south had some control over the matter: “By not withdrawing US weapons participating in the Korea-US military exercises, we decided to let them stay a while and see what happens in North Korea,” he said. It looks likely that an American submarine armed with nuclear warheads will now be stationed nearby: “We decided to convene another Korea-US submarine drill after the Foal Eagle training ends at the end of April,” the official stated. “We are still negotiating, how to utilize the nuclear weapons after then.”
The negotiations are going to be one-sided; America’s new anti-Chinese military priorities mean that troops and bases are on the move. This has meant that US bases in the south are being consolidated and moved away from the front line, the south is being forced to pay more for its occupation.
Up till now, American tactical battlefield nuclear weapons have been stationed in the south but strategic weapons, intended for cities and civilians were not. America is cynically using the threat of a nuclear attack on the north as a way of appeasing the south while it changes its strategic priorities towards a confrontation with China. For China and Russia, the mobilisation of strategic nuclear weapons in the Pacific is a new and worrying threat.