Likelihood of major military clash on Korean Peninsula, Taiwan low, says Seoul think tank

Posted on : 2022-12-20 17:01 KST Modified on : 2022-12-20 17:01 KST
The IFANS Forecast for 2023 predicted a lasting chill in inter-Korean relations in the coming few years
Screen capture of the IFANS website’s page for the 2023 IFANS Forecast
Screen capture of the IFANS website’s page for the 2023 IFANS Forecast

According to a state-run South Korean think tank, North Korea is likely to beef up its nuclear arsenal while continuing to ignore demands for denuclearization talks in the new year. The think tank predicts North Korea will use its self-given status as a so-called “responsible nuclear weapons state” to brush off denuclearization demands. The policy institute forecast that inter-Korean relations are also likely to remain in their current state of impasse.

In a report published Monday by the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security (IFANS) of the Korea National Diplomatic Academy, which is affiliated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, North Korea is currently going back to the past with its policies in all major areas.

“[North Korea] is repeating declarations internally and externally that it will maintain its current stance until the end of 2025, when the 9th [Workers’ Party of Korea] Congress is scheduled to be held,” the report stated.

“The probability is high that [North Korea] will maintain its current policy line, symbolized by the establishment of its self-defense power and self-reliant economy, for at least the next two to three years,” the report pointed out.

The think tank also pointed to specific wording used by North Korea recently regarding its nuclear status. In its new nuclear use law, which was released in September, North Korea affirmed its status as a “responsible nuclear weapons state.” Given this stance, the think tank predicts North Korea will likely continue ignoring US demands for bilateral dialogue and negotiations on denuclearization.

On the other hand, the institute pointed out that “while continuing to repeat provocative actions against South Korea, [the North] is unlikely to conduct large-scale provocations that could trigger extreme war or nuclear crises such as in 2010 and 2017 due to the triple pressure of international sanctions, COVID-19 and natural disasters.”

Given this, the think tank says the momentum to push forward denuclearization negotiations with North Korea is expected to drop significantly.

“Instead, strengthening the deterrence power of the South Korea-US alliance to counter North Korea's nuclear threat is expected to be the core of policy on North Korea,” the IFANS report stated.

In other words, the “vicious cycle” of North Korea conducting shows of force, South Korea and the US reacting with a confrontational response, and North Korea retaliating again will continue into next year.

According to the think tank, it also won’t be easy to find a breakthrough for inter-Korean relations, which have been stuck in a rough patch for some time now.

“North Korea is likely to turn a blind eye to improving inter-Korean relations while advancing its nuclear weapons and focusing on relations with China and Russia,” the report stated.

“Without a preceding change in North Korea’s attitude, the two Koreas will have no choice but to run parallel with each other and inter-Korean relations will continue to stagnate,” the think tank predicted.

Meanwhile, the deepening strategic competition between the US and China is also expected to continue.

“The US, using the Ukraine war as an opportunity, will [try to] weaken Russia’s national power while also maintaining its focus on the strategic rivalry with China,” the report stated. According to the think tank, the US will gradually strengthen its checks on China through military innovation, strengthening alliances, and competitive economic policies.

“While responding to the US offensive, China is also likely to maintain active diplomacy to strengthen its military power and influence in order to emerge as a powerful nation," the report stated.

According to the think tank, however, the chances for China and the US to develop a Cold War-like relationship are “unlikely,” given the “interdependent economic relationship and the level of the arms race.”

Instead, the report predicted that “overall stability in the regional system will be maintained based on the superior power of the US as an outside balancer,” adding that “the possibility of large-scale military clashes on the Korean Peninsula and Taiwan is low.”

By Jung In-hwan, staff reporter

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