Protesters clashed with police in South Korea's rural Seongju county as US forces began installing the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system April 27. Local residents attempted to block roads to impede the military trucks bringing in components for the system, with signs reading "No THAAD, No War" and "Hey, US! Are you friends or occupying troops?" The US and South Korean governments are hurrying to have the THAAD operational before presidential election on May 9, as candidates still dispute the controversial deployment. The installation began in an unannounced operation in the early morning hours. Some 8,000 police troops were deployed to clear roads as the equipment was moved to Seongju, in North Gyeongsang province. It is now revealed that the components had been quietly shipped to Busan last month and kept in storage until now. They include a high-powered radar that will be used to track incoming missiles. (Chosun Ilbo, TeleSur)
This week's unnerving incident in which US jets intercepted two Russian bombers off the coast of Alaska leaves us wondering how to read events. Russia sent the two "nuclear-capable" bombers to within 100 miles of Kodiak Island April 17, prompting the US to scramble two F-22 stealth fighter jets from Elmendorf Air Force Base. The US and Russian craft were side-by-side for a full 12 minutes, until they crossed out of the US Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). (The Telegraph, April 18) This came as ExxonMobil was seeking a waiver from US sanctions against Russia to move ahead with its Black Sea venture with Rosneft. The decision rested with the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), while Secretary of State (and ex-Exxon CEO) Rex Tillerson is officially recusing himself from any matters involving the company for two years. Still, it is counterintuitive (at least) that OFAC turned down the waiver April 21. (NYT, April 21; Fox Business, April 19)
As the US moves ahead with its plans to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system in South Korea, local farmers have launched a protest campaign and lawsuit to halt the installation. Under a land swap deal, South Korean conglomerate Lotte Group is to turn over its golf course in southeastern Seongju county to US Forces Korea (USFK) for installation of the weapon system. In return, the company will receive a parcel of military-owned ground near Seoul. Since the deal was announced in July, local farmers in Seongju and neighboring Gimcheon county have been holding daily protests against the deployment. Fearing that the installation will make the area a potential nuclear target, and that the site's radar system will affect their melon fields, they have been rallying each day outside the site, with signs reading "Bring peace to this land!" and "No THAAD deployment!" With deployment imminent, the farmers have brought a lawsuit, accusing the Defense Ministry of bypassing legally-required procedures, including prior agreement with local communities and an environmental impact assessment. They are also threatening to blockade roads to bar entry of military forces. The area has been flooded with soldiers and riot police, and the deployment site sealed off with barbed wire. (Zoom In Korea, Yonhap, AFP, NPR)
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists on Jan. 26 moved the minute hand of its symbolic Doomsday Clock from three minutes to two-and-a-half minutes to midnight. On this year that marks the 70th anniversary of the Doomsday Clock, the Bulletin notes (full text at PDF; links added by CountrerVortex): "The United States and Russia—which together possess more than 90 percent of the world's nuclear weapons—remained at odds in a variety of theaters, from Syria to Ukraine to the borders of NATO; both countries continued wide-ranging modernizations of their nuclear forces, and serious arms control negotiations were nowhere to be seen. North Korea conducted its fourth and fifth underground nuclear tests and gave every indication it would continue to develop nuclear weapons delivery capabilities. Threats of nuclear warfare hung in the background as Pakistan and India faced each other warily across the Line of Control in Kashmir after militants attacked two Indian army bases."
Weeks of relentless and massive street protests in South Korea finally succeeded in bringing about the impeachment of President Park Geun-Hye Dec. 9 as the National Assembly voted overwhelmingly to charge her with corruption and mishandling of state affairs. The country's Constitutional Court has 180 days to uphold or invalidate the impeachment. Protesters pledge they will continue to press for President Park to step down, which would automatically spark new elections. The protests have been ongoing since October, repeatedly mobilizing hundreds of thousands across the country. On Dec. 4, up to 1.7 million filled the streets of downtown Seoul, within sight of the Blue House presidential residence. There have been scattered street clashes, but the tone of the protests is overwhelmingly peaceful, even joyous. University professors have played a leading role. The protests coincided with rolling strikes by public-sector workers over labor demands, with hospitals and transport heavily affected. The impeachment is a victory for transparency; Park is accused of conniving with a crony for illicit enrichment through abuse of government power. (Korea Policy Institute, Dec. 10; WP, Dec. 8; Korea Policy Institute, Nov. 30; Korea Times, Nov. 27)
The UN on Oct. 27 adopted a resolution—hailed by disarmament campaigners as an important landmark—to launch negotiations in 2017 on a treaty outlawing nuclear weapons. The resolution was approved at a meeting of the First Committee of the General Assembly, which deals with disarmament and international security matters. A total of 123 nations voted in favor of the resolution, with 38 voting against and 16 abstaining. The resolution will set up a UN conference beginning in March next year, open to all member states, to negotiate a "legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination." Among the 57 co-sponsors of the resolution, Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Nigeria and South Africa took the lead.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Oct. 5 refused (PDF) to hear a claim by the Marshall Islands that the UK, India and Pakistan have failed to halt the nuclear arms race, finding that it does not have jurisdiction over the matter. The Marshall Islands was the site for numerous nuclear tests carried out by the US during the Cold War arms race, and claims that such experience allows it to testify on the danger of a nuclear arms race. The nation accused nine countries of not complying with the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation (PDF). However, the ICJ can only consider the cases for Britain, India and Pakistan, as China, France, Israel, North Korea, Russia and the US have not recognized the court's jurisdiction. The Marshall Islands claims that these countries have breached their obligations under the treaty, which commits all states with nuclear capabilities "to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament."
The failed test of an intermediate-range ballistic missile on North Korea's so-called "Day of the Sun" (April 15, the birthday of Kim Il-sung) only succeeded in winning rebukes from China—the DPRK regime's only, increasingly embarassed ally. China's official Xinhua news agency said that the test "marks the latest in a string of saber-rattling that, if unchecked, will lead the country to nowhere... Nuclear weapons will not make Pyongyang safer. On the contrary, its costly military endeavors will keep on suffocating its economy."