Event Horizon - Issue 3

Update for: 16-29 February 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.


DPRK continues arms transfer to Russia

ROK Defense Minister Shin Won-sik told reporters that certain DPRK munition factories are operating at full capacity to produce weapons and shells for Russia. He revealed that the DPRK has shipped to Russia around 6,700 containers, equivalent to the volume of approximately 3 million 152 mm artillery shells. In return, the DPRK appears to be receiving food and other necessities from Russia. The US State Department put the number even higher, alleging that over 10,000 containers of munitions or munitions-related materials have been sent to Russia. [YonhapUS State Department]

Debris shed light on DPRK missiles

Debris of a DPRK solid-propellant short-range ballistic missile recovered in Ukraine includes more than 290 non-domestic electronic components, most of which are found in the missile’s guidance system. Of the 290 components, 75% are linked to companies in the United States, while the rest are linked to companies in Europe and Asia. Despite the use of non-domestic components, the accuracy of conventional DPRK missile strikes appears to be low, as Ukraine’s top prosecutor claimed that only two among the 24 DPRK ballistic missiles fired at Ukraine in recent weeks hit their targets. [CARReuters]

DPRK kicks off regional development project, admits competing priorities

DPRK leader Kim Jong Un kicked off the 20x10 regional development project with the groundbreaking ceremony for a factory in Songchon County. During the ceremony, Kim admitted that the 20x10 project “will not be easy” to accomplish, considering other priorities such as boosting national defence capabilities and building residential compounds nationwide. Notably, this admission was only printed in Korean by the Rodong Sinmun, the main newspaper of the WPK. [Rodong Sinmun

The 20x10 policy aims to build factories in 20 counties annually for the next 10 years to improve people’s livelihood in local areas. [Event Horizon | Issue 1]

ROK, United States train on counter air manoeuvres

ROK and US air forces conducted a joint exercise to train on defensive counter air manoeuvres, such as intercepting enemy aircraft and cruise missiles. The exercise took place in the wake of multiple test fires of land-attack and anti-ship cruise missiles by the DPRK this year. [YonhapEvent Horizon | Issue 2


Yoon: DPRK provocations “highly likely”

ROK President Yoon Suk Yeo claimed that the DPRK is “highly likely” to carry out provocations and psychological warfare to divide public opinion ahead of the ROK parliamentary elections in April. In Washington, top diplomats of the ROK and the United States “expressed deep concerns again over North Korea's definition of the inter-Korean relationship as one between hostile, belligerent states, and over any potential attempt to change the status quo in the Yellow Sea”. [YonhapYonhap]

Seoul: China, DPRK to have “vibrant” exchanges

An official at the ROK’s Unification Ministry noted that exchanges between China and the DPRK had been “considerably” weaker than those between the DPRK and Russia. The latter have been expanded since the summit between Kim Jong-un and Russian President Vladimir Putin in September 2023. Nonetheless, the official said he expected “vibrant” exchanges between China and the DPRK in 2024 as the two countries mark the 75th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties. [Yonhap

Taiwan Strait Final (3)

Image credit: 'Taiwan Presidential Office' Flickr account.


Maritime tension near Kinmen

China Coast Guard (CCG) declared that it would strengthen maritime operations near Taiwan’s Kinmen islands following an incident on 14 February resulting in the death of two Chinese nationals. The fishermen drowned after their unregistered speedboat, which entered restricted waters near Kinmen, overturned during a chase with the Taiwan Coast Guard. On 19 February, the CCG boarded a Taiwanese tourist boat near Kinmen. Subsequently, on 20 February, the Taiwan Coast Guard said it expelled a CCG boat that entered the restricted waters. [CCGCCGPTS, Liberty TimesUDN

After the 14 February incident, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office asserted that it never recognised the restricted and forbidden waters set by Taiwan. Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council emphasised that both sides have been conducting maritime law enforcement and cooperations based on these boundaries since 1992. The council also urged China not to change the status quo unilaterally. [Taiwan Affairs OfficeRTI, RTI]

Progress on Taiwan’s first domestic submarine  

Taiwan’s first domestically built submarine, ‘Hai Kun’, has been moved to a dry dock from its assembly hall. The development brings the submarine one step closer to finishing the harbour acceptance tests and the subsequent sea trials. The Taiwan navy reportedly expects that its Indigenous Defense Submarine project could prevent a PLA encirclement of the main island in a possible full-scale war. [CNAFocus Taiwanmmedia]

Wang Yi asserts China’s growth, warns against de-risking

Member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in a speech at the Munich Security Conference that those who attempt to exclude China in the name of de-risking are making a historic mistake. [China FM

Wang’s remarks came at a time when foreign direct investment to China in 2023 hit the lowest level in 30 years, with a drop of about 80% compared to one year ago. In 2024, the country’s economy continues to face challenges such as weakened consumption and export, a downturn in the property sector and an ageing society. Earlier, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said that because of China’s internal challenges, Beijing is unlikely to consider “a major invasion” in the short term. [NIKKEIFTWSJCNNFocus Taiwan]

PLA activities near Taiwan

In February, the Taiwan military reported detecting 271 PLA military aircraft, 26 balloons, and a constant presence of naval vessels around the main island of Taiwan. [Taiwan MNDDPP


Taiwan plans to upgrade C4ISR

The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency has notified the Congress of a possible sale of advanced tactical data link system upgrade planning and related equipment to Taiwan, with an estimated cost of 75 million USD. The upgrade planning reportedly concerns the Link-16 tactical data link network, which has played a vital role in integrating Taiwan armed forces’ C4ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) capabilities. [DSCACNATaiwan MND, RFA]

United States may send five aircraft carriers to western Pacific

In 2024, the US navy is likely to deploy five aircraft carriers to the western Pacific to deter China. The US navy operates a total of 11 supercarriers. Currently, two to three aircraft carrier strike groups are positioned in the western Pacific. [SCMP, NewsweekUSNI, USNI

Scs Final (3)

Image credit: Philippine Coast Guard 'X' account.


Philippine air force flies with US bomber, receives transport aircraft

Three Philippine fighter jets flew with a US B-52 bomber in a joint air patrol over the SCS on 19 February. In response, PLA’s Southern Theatre Command stated that it had monitored the situation and accused the Philippines of collaborating with foreign countries “to disturb the situation.” Meanwhile, the Philippine air force also received a second C-130H transport aircraft from the US government through the Excess Defense Articles Program. [Air & Space ForcesChina News, Philippine Air Force]

Maritime tension between China and Philippines

The China Coast Guard (CCG) said it expelled the Philippines’ Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) vessels out of waters near the Scarborough Shoal/Huangyan Islands. The Philippines Coast Guard (PCG) said despite “dangerous manoeuvres” of the CCG, a BFAR vessel had continued its patrol. Furthermore, the PCG also reported the deployment of floating barriers by the CCG in the vicinity of the Scarborough Shoal/Huangyan Islands. [CCGCCGPhilstar, The Manila Times, Reuters


Japan to offer maritime support to Southeast Asian nations

Japan plans to provide long-term support to maritime authorities in the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam. A detailed 10-year plan is to be completed by March 2025. [NHK]

Alleged cyanide fishing in SCS

The BFAR alleged that Chinese fishermen are employing cyanide fishing techniques in waters near the Scarborough Shoal/Huangyan Islands. Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said that his administration is considering filing environmental charges if this allegation is confirmed. [ABS-CBNInquirer

Nato Russia Final

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


Putin’s strategic messaging in Federal Assembly address

On 29 February, in his address to the Federal Assembly, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that Russia’s strategic nuclear forces are “in a state of full readiness.” He touted new weapon systems such as the ‘Kinzhal’ hypersonic missiles, ‘Burevestnik’ nuclear-powered cruise missiles, ‘Poseidon’ nuclear-powered underwater drones, and the ‘Sarmat’ intercontinental ballistic missiles, claiming tests have confirmed their capabilities. The ‘Zircon’ hypersonic missile, ‘Avangard’ hypersonic glide vehicle and ‘Peresvet’ laser systems were noted as already being in service. Putin also added that “work on a number of other promising weapons systems continues.” 

Putin said strategic stability dialogue with the United States can only happen comprehensively to include “all those aspects that affect our national interests and directly affect the security (...) of Russia.” He also dismissed claims that Russia plans to place nuclear weapons in space as “unfounded.”  

Putin declared intentions to “seriously strengthen the Russian Armed Forces in the Western direction in connection with the accession of Sweden and Finland to NATO.” Though he refuted claims of Russia’s plan to attack Europe, he also warned of “much more tragic” consequences that may ultimately involve nuclear weapons use for potential “interventionists [into Russian territory].” [Kremlin]

Alexei Navalny dies in penal colony

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny died on 16 February in an Arctic penal colony. According to Navalny’s team, the politician was “murdered” shortly before a reported prisoner swap could have been agreed upon between Germany, Russia and the United States. In response to his death, the United States expanded its sanctions list against Russia, while Navalny’s family and Western politicians called for a thorough investigation. Navalny's widow, Yulia Navalnaya, pledged to carry on his legacy. In her address to the European Parliament, she stressed that resolutions and sanctions alone are insufficient against President Putin and called for EU support to Russian citizens opposing the war. [PoliticoBBCAlexei Navalny YouTube ChannelReutersIndependentUS State Department, BBC

Russia captures Avdiivka

Russian troops took control of Avdiivka, marking Moscow's largest territorial gain since capturing Bakhmut in May 2023. Russian President Vladimir Putin affirmed Russia's intention to continue advancing through eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the withdrawal from Avdiivka “was a professional decision that will save many Ukrainian lives” and urged the West to speed up its aid to Ukraine. [Komsomolskaya PravdaReuters, The Wall Street Journal

Iran reportedly sends ballistic missiles to Russia

Reuters reported that Iran had supplied approximately 400 ballistic missiles to Russia. The White House said it could not verify this report, but, if the allegation is confirmed, it warned of a “swift and severe” international response. For the part of the United States, it would take the issue to the UN Security Council and impose further sanctions against Iran. Following the United States’ warning, Iran refuted claims of missile provision. [ReutersReutersWhite House] 

Ukraine expands security alliances

Ukraine signed security agreements with Italy and Canada, adding to previous security commitments from the UK, Germany, France, and Denmark. The agreements promise extensive financial and military support to Ukraine amidst the second anniversary of the ongoing Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Furthermore, France has spearheaded a coalition to supply Ukraine with long- and medium-range land-attack missiles. This initiative, despite Germany’s resistance to supplying similar missiles due to concerns for escalation, underscores a growing pattern of international coalitions supporting Ukraine, ranging from fighter jet training to anti-aircraft systems and drone deliveries. [European PravdaLe MondeFocusRBC-Ukraine, Pravda.ua]

New sanctions on Russia and sanction loopholes

The United States has imposed over 500 new sanctions on Russia in response to Russia’s two-year full-scale war against Ukraine and the death of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. This includes targeting Russia’s payment system, financial and military institutions and officials linked to Navalny’s imprisonment. In addition, the EU released its 13th sanctions package, which further restricted Russia’s access to military technologies and included more companies and individuals involved in Russia’s war effort. [Council of the EU and the European Council, United States Department of the Treasury

Despite previous 2022 sanctions on Russian oil, Russia indirectly sold to the EU 35 million barrels of refined fuels worth 1 billion EUR in 2023. This was made possible through a legal loophole allowing EU countries to import Russian oil if it is first refined elsewhere. [Global Witness


Leaked files reveal Russian military’s criteria for nuclear strike

Leaked documents, prepared between 2008 and 2014 for Russian naval officer training, reveal scenarios where Russia would use tactical nuclear weapons at an early stage in a conflict with a major world power. The documents also suggest that Russia could resort to nuclear strikes in response to specific levels of military losses, such as the destruction of 20% of its ballistic missile submarines, 30% of its nuclear submarines, the loss of three cruisers, three airfields, or if simultaneous strikes are carried out against main and reserve coastal command centres. [Financial Times

NATO and EU countries speculate bringing troops to Ukraine

Following Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico’s comment that several EU and NATO members are considering military deployments to Ukraine, French President Emmanuel Macron said that he was open to the idea of sending in Western troops. Subsequently, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas and Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis also gave their tacit endorsement to such propositions. Meanwhile, Germany, Poland and NATO reiterated their opposing stance to the issue. Russia warned that a conflict would become inevitable if NATO makes such a move. [PoliticoInterfaxUkrainska PravdaPoliticoAP News

Armenia freezes its participation in CSTO

Armenia has “in practical terms frozen” its participation in the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), a military alliance in Eurasia consisting of six post-Soviet states. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan indicated the organisation has failed to meet Armenia’s security needs in 2021 and 2022. The CSTO Secretariat has not yet received any formal notice from Armenia regarding the de-jure suspension of membership. [ReutersKommersant

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