A day after US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley admitted that with the latest round of sanctions the Security Council has just about reached the limits of China’s and Russia’s tolerance – and that the US will now need to explore other diplomatic, and possibly military, options, US forces joined with their South Korea counterparts for another "show of strength" meant for North Korea.
Both Haley and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appeared on the Sunday talk shows to stress – using language that’s ringing increasingly hollow - that the administration wouldn’t hesitate to authorize a military response to the North should diplomacy fail.
And to demonstrate that, four US F-35 stealth fighters and two B-1B bombers conducted another round of "mock bombing exercises" over the Korean peninsula on Monday, according to Reuters. The US aircraft, which were joined by four South Korea F-15K fighter jets, returned to their bases in Japan and Guam after the exercise, but the latest demonstration of western capabilities likely assures that Kim Jong Un, who views such exercises in the same way the international community views his missile launches, will seek to retaliate with his own show of force.
North Korea, for its part, has said the faster sanctions are imposed, the more quickly it will move to complete the development of its nuclear program, with KCNA stating that U.S. moves to impose sanctions and pressure on the country "will only increase our pace towards the ultimate completion of the state nuclear force."
The drills were a response to North Korea’s decision to again launch an intermediate range ballistic missile over Japan on Friday – the second time the isolated North has conducted such a provocative test. Of course, that test was meant to be a response to the latest round of UN sanctions, which were a response to its previous firing of missiles over Japan, which were a response to…you get the picture.
Meanwhile, China and Russia conducted joint military exercises of their own near the Russian far eastern port of Vladivostok. The drills are the latest sign that the two powers, which have sought to serve as mediators between the US and North - though neither belligerent has so far taken the two countries’ offer to arrange diplomatic talks - are taking joint precautions should the conflict boil over into war, according to Reuters, which cited a report from China’s Xinhua news agency. Although it is unclear if the message is meant for fat Uncle Kim or not so fat Uncle Slam.
Those drills were conducted between Peter the Great Bay, near Vladivostok, and the southern part of the Sea of Okhotsk, to the north of Japan. Those drills were part of joint China-Russian naval exercises, the first part of which was staged in the Baltic in July. Of course, Xinhua did not directly link the drills to current tension over North Korea.
As Russia Today points out, Moscow and Beijing have repeatedly proposed a ‘double-freeze’ peace plan where the North Korea suspends its nuclear and ballistic missile tests in exchange for a halt in joint US-South Korea military exercises. However, Washington has rejected the plan, saying that it has every right to conduct drills with South Korea.
Earlier this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the escalating tensions between the US and North Korea were on the brink of a nuclear war that could lead to a “global, planetary catastrophe” and huge loss of life.
The North Korean regime believes that its nuclear program is essential to its survival, as Russia and China have repeatedly pointed out. Kim Jong Un won’t relinquish control over his missiles under virtually any circumstances.
Meanwhile, the US’s military options remain incredibly limited. As former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon once pointed out, despite assurances from the administration that “all options remain on the table," in reality, there are few available that wouldn’t result in millions of deaths in Seoul from conventional weapons.
Kim knows that a strike against the US would be tantamount to suicide. So, the violent rhetoric and demonstrations appear set to continue for the foreseeable future – that is, unless the North with its next nuclear test accidentally triggers the eruption of “supervolcano” at Mt. Paektu. Such an eruption could potentially threaten all life on Earth.