Event Horizon Issue 10

Update for: 6-26 June 2024

The 'Event Horizon' provides regular updates on developments that could impact the risk of conflict escalation. Our core objective is to bring attention to developments that could escalate to strategic level conflicts, including those that might lead to nuclear weapon use.

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Korean Peninsula Final (4)

Image credits: KCNA, 'Republic of Korea' Flickr account.


Kim, Putin sign “mutual defence pact”

Kim Jong Un held a grand ceremony to welcome Vladmir Putin, who visited North Korea for the first time in 24 years. The pair signed the DPRK-Russia Treaty on Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, which pledges military and other assistance if either country is under an armed invasion. The treaty also stipulates that the two countries shall take joint measures to strengthen defence capabilities and cooperate in space, peaceful atomic energy and economic fields, among others. [KCNA, KCNA, Reuters]

Putin and Kim driving in Garden of Kumsusan State Guesthouse. Image: KCNAPutin and Kim driving in Garden of Kumsusan State Guesthouse. Image: KCNA

Kim hailed the treaty as elevating bilateral relations to a “great DPRK-Russia alliance.” Putin did not use the term “alliance” but told Russian media that the treaty was no different from the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance signed by the Soviet Union and North Korea in 1961. Putin further added that Russia reserves the right to supply weapons to North Korea. [KCNA, Kremlin, 1961 treaty, 38north]

Military activities on the Peninsula 

  • Despite casualties from landmine explosions, North Korean troops have continued to plant landmines, erect anti-tank barriers and reinforce roads inside the Demilitarized Zone. Some soldiers briefly crossed the border into the South, triggering warning shots. [Yonhap, Yonhap]

  • South Korea and the United States completed a review of a joint guideline on responding to North Korean nuclear attacks during the third session of the Nuclear Consultative Group (NCG) in Seoul. [Yonhap]

  • US aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt arrived in Busan to participate in Freedom Edge, the first trilateral multidomain exercise between South Korea, Japan and the United States, in late June. [Yonhap, Yonhap, USNI]

  • South Korean and US aircraft conducted a four-day ground attack drill across various locations in South Korea, involving a US AC-130J gunship and South Korean F-15K and KF-16 fighter jets. The two countries also held a five-day joint logistic drill involving some 2,000 troops south of Seoul. [Yonhap, KFN, Yonhap]

  • A South Korean submarine trained on attacking North Korean submarines, surface vessels and firing ballistic missiles at targets in North Korea. In addition, the South Korean army launched 48 guided rockets from Chunmoo multiple rocket launchers at a firing range southwest of Seoul. [Yonhap, Arirang, Yonhap]

  • Following South Korea’s full suspension of the 2018 inter-Korean tension reduction accord, the South Korean Marine Corps resumed full-scale live-fire exercises on islands in the Yellow Sea for the first time in seven years. [Yonhap, Event Horizon Issue 9]

  • North Korea launched a missile on 26 June towards the East Sea/Sea of Japan. The missile reportedly exploded mid-air after flying about 250 km. The next day, the North claimed a successful test aimed at securing Multiple Independently-targetable Reentry Vehicles (MIRV) technology.   [Yonhap, KBS, KCNA]


South Korea may supply arms to Ukraine

South Korean National Security Adviser Chang Ho-jin said the South would reconsider supplying arms to Ukraine, adding that the level of arms supply will depend on developments between Russia and North Korea. A South Korean cable TV reported that North Korea “plans to send construction and engineering forces to Russia-occupied territories of Ukraine” as early as July. [Yonhap, Yonhap, Reuters]

Development of North Korean missile submarine

Beyond Parallel, a programme of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, reported that activities at the Sinpo shipyard indicated that North Korea’s nuclear-capable ballistic missile submarine, Hero Kim Kun Ok, may start sea trials later this summer. [Beyond Parallel]

Taiwan Strait and SCS Final

Image credit: 'Taiwan Presidential Office' Flickr account, Philippine Coast Guard 'X' account.


China allegedly disagrees with limiting AI in nuclear decision-making

Tarun Chhabra, senior director for technology at the US National Security Council, said at an event of the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington that Beijing disagrees with limiting the role of artificial intelligence (AI) in nuclear decision-making. “We don’t think that an autonomous system should be getting close to any decision to launch a nuclear weapon,” Chhabra was quoted by the South China Morning Post as saying, adding that the long-stated US policy was “not agreed by China today.” [SCMP]

Acknowledging Beijing’s reluctance to limit its nuclear arsenal, US Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell expressed hope that China “may be prepared to talk about other issues.” In May, the two countries held a meeting in Geneva to discuss AI risks and safety. [SCMP, White House]

Beijing’s remarks on Taiwan

Citing several sources, the Financial Times (FT) reported that Xi Jinping told European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen in April 2023 that the United States “was trying to trick China into invading Taiwan,” adding that an armed conflict with the United States would undermine China’s “great rejuvenation by 2049.” Another source told the FT that Xi had made similar remarks to his underlings. Citing the FT story, China Central Television reported that the US was luring China to invade Taiwan, without mentioning that the claim reportedly came from Xi. [FT, CCTV]

Separately, in the first Track Two talks on nuclear arms between the United States and China in five years, Chinese participants reassured their US counterparts that China will not resort to threat or use of nuclear weapons over Taiwan. David Santoro, the US organiser of the talks, said that the Chinese side was “absolutely convinced that they are able to prevail in a conventional fight over Taiwan without using nuclear weapons." [Reuters]

Escalating tension in South China Sea

Seven Philippine navy personnel were reportedly injured, including one who lost a finger, during an intense confrontation with the China Coast Guard (CCG) on 17 June at the Second Thomas Shoal/Ren’ai Jiao. The CCG stated that it “boarded, inspected and drove away“ Philippine vessels that illegally intruded into the area, accusing the Philippines of deliberately ramming CCG boats. In response, the Armed Forces of the Philippines released videos showing the CCG ramming Philippine boats and brandishing bladed weapons. [CCG, AFP, AFP, USNI, Strait Times, GMA, GMA]

Commenting on the incident, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said that Manila will not “instigate wars.” He commended the Philippine forces for "exercising the greatest restraint amidst intense provocation" and added that the Philippines would not yield to any foreign power. [GMA]


United States to show support to Manila

Following the 17 June incident, the US navy will hold a joint exercise with the Philippines in the coming weeks to show Washington’s support for Manila. A US official told the Washington Post that the exercise was “preplanned and is not intended to escalate tensions with China.” On 16-17 June, vessels from the United States, Canada, Japan and the Philippines also conducted a Maritime Cooperative Activity in the Philippines' Exclusive Economic Zone. [WP, US Navy]

Taiwan strengthens defence capabilities

  • 18 June: The US Department of States notified Congress of a 300 million USD sale of around 1,000 loitering munitions to Taiwan.The munitions are scheduled for delivery between 2024 and 2025.[DSCA, DSCA, Focus Taiwan]

  • 25 June: Taiwan unveiled the first two prototypes of its 105 mm infantry support vehicle, developed to meet the need for rapid deployment. A third prototype is to be built in 2025. [MNA, FTVnews]

  • 22-26 July: the annual Han Kuang Exercise will reportedly be held under more realistic conditions, without a centralised command structure and limitations on time and venue.[Taipei Times, TTVnews]

Prototype of Taiwan’s 105 mm infantry support vehicle. Image: Taiwan MNDPrototype of Taiwan’s 105 mm infantry support vehicle. Image: Taiwan MND

US Marines to set up new regiment to counter China

Gen. Eric Smith, commandant of the Marine Corps, stated at a press conference in Washington that the Marines will deploy a third Littoral Regiment to Guam to protect Japan, South Korea and the Philippines from China’s growing assertiveness. The first such regiment was set up in March 2022 in Hawaii and the second one was established in November 2023 in Okinawa. In March 2024, two squadrons of F-22A air-superiority fighters also arrived in Okinawa for long-term deployment in the region. [Kyodo, Kadena Air Base]

Nato Russia Final

Image credits: Kremlin official website, 'President Of Ukraine' Flickr account, and 'Joe Biden' Flickr account.


Putin visits North Korea and Vietnam 

In his first trip to North Korea since 2000, Putin met with Kim Jong Un on 19 June and signed a strategic partnership treaty (see Korean Peninsula section for more details). Following his visit to Pyongyang, Putin had a one-day visit to Vietnam where he met with key government officials and signed several cooperation agreements, further strengthening diplomatic and economic ties. [Kremlin, Kremlin, Kremlin]

G7 summit: 50 billion USD loan and security deals to support Ukraine

During their annual summit, G7 leaders agreed to use proceeds from frozen Russian assets to provide Ukraine with a 50 billion USD loan. This financial support aims to help Ukraine continue its defence against Russia, purchase weapons, and rebuild damaged infrastructure. The loan funding will come from the US, the EU and other G7 nations, although specific contributions from each party are still being finalised. [White House, NYT

On the sidelines of the G7 summit, President Joe Biden and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signed a 10-year bilateral security agreement to bolster Ukraine's defence against Russia and bring Ukraine closer to NATO membership. An official stated that the deal aims to ensure future US administrations' support for Ukraine. Additionally, Ukraine signed a 10-year security agreement with Japan. The US and Japan are the last two G7 nations to pledge long-term support to Ukraine. [White House, Reuters, MFA of Japan]

Putin’s “peace proposal” and outcomes of Switzerland summit 

Shortly before the peace summit in Switzerland, from which Russia was excluded, President Putin presented his conditions for peace in Ukraine. He offered to "immediately" cease hostilities and begin negotiations if Ukraine withdrew from the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions and renounced its NATO membership aspirations. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy swiftly rejected the proposal, characterising it as an ultimatum to surrender territory. [Kremlin, AP]

The peace summit in Switzerland saw the attendance of representatives from over 90 countries. More than 80 of these countries and international organisations endorsed a joint communiqué affirming support for Ukraine's territorial integrity. Notably, key regional powers such as Brazil, India, Saudi Arabia and South Africa refrained from signing the communiqué.  [Reuters, The Guardian, European Council]

China, which did not attend the summit, proposed an alternative peace process in collaboration with Brazil. Ukraine's Ambassador to Singapore expressed that Kyiv might consider participating in a Beijing-led peace conference, provided it adheres to the principles of the UN Charter and international law. [Kyiv Independent]

Russia and Belarus conduct second stage of non-strategic nuclear exercises

In June, Russia and Belarus conducted the second stage of non-strategic nuclear exercises “to maintain readiness for the combat use of non-strategic nuclear weapons”. Russian missile units and navy crews participated in the drill using special training munitions. In addition to the nuclear-capable weapons seen in the first stage exercise, the second stage drill included a nuclear-capable Moskit anti-ship missile. [Russia’s MoD, Russia’s MoD, Event Horizon Issue 9, Reporter

Reliance on nuclear weapons rising

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) reports that, as of January 2024, the global nuclear weapons stockpile has decreased from approximately 12,512 to 12,121. Despite this reduction, the number of operational nuclear warheads continues to rise each year. The majority of these launch-ready warheads are held by Russia and the United States, with China now believed to have some warheads on high operational alert for the first time. Moreover, a report by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) revealed that global spending on nuclear weapons increased by 13% in 2023, reaching a record high of 91.4 billion USD. [SIPRI, ICAN]Capture22

On 7 June, Pranay Vaddi, senior director for arms control, disarmament and nonproliferation at the US National Security Council, stated at the US Arms Control Association annual meeting that North Korea, China and Russia are "expanding and diversifying their nuclear weapons stockpiles at a breakneck speed." He added that these countries are forcing the United States and its allies to prepare for "a world where nuclear competition occurs without numerical constraints." [ACA


Russia considers updating its nuclear doctrine 

President Putin described Russia's nuclear doctrine as a "living instrument" that can be adjusted in response to global developments. He expressed concerns about the development of low-yield nuclear weapons and Western discussions on their potential use, highlighting these as reasons to consider changes in the doctrine. [Kremlin, Kremlin, Kremlin Tass, Kommersant]

The current nuclear doctrine outlines nuclear weapon use scenarios, including responses to ballistic missile attacks, the use of WMDs against Russia or its allies, critical threats to state or military structures and conventional aggression threatening the state's existence. However, Putin's recent statements suggest a broader scope, indicating Russia might use "all means at its disposal" if its “sovereignty or territorial integrity is threatened”. However, he affirmed that a preemptive strike premise in the doctrine is unnecessary “at this point,” as a retaliatory strike would ensure the adversary's destruction. [Kremlin, Kremlin]

NATO discusses increased nuclear deployment

Ahead of the NATO Ministers of Defence meeting in Brussels, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg emphasised that nuclear deterrence is NATO's "ultimate security guarantee" and a means to preserve peace. A week later, in an interview with The Telegraph, Stoltenberg revealed that the alliance is in talks to deploy more nuclear weapons in response to the growing threat from Russia and China. [The Telegraph, NATO

Mark Rutte to become NATO's next Secretary General

On 26 June, NATO allies agreed for Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte to become the next Secretary General of NATO after his only rival, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, withdrew his candidacy. Rutte will replace the current NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, on 1 October 2024. [NATO]

US to restore nuclear capabilities to B-52H bombers

The US Congress is moving to restore nuclear capabilities to 30 B-52H heavy bombers, which were previously converted to carry only conventional munitions under the New START treaty. The Fiscal Year 2025 defence bills mandate their reintegration into the nuclear triad after the treaty expires in 2026, with full restoration expected by 2029. House Armed Services Chairman Mike Rogers emphasised that the United States "needs to be prepared to face a nuclear environment without any treaty limitations," while critics argue this move will complicate future treaty negotiations. [Defence News]

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