Event Horizon - Issue 4

Update for: 1-14 March 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.


ROK-US joint exercise

The ROK and the United States carried out the annual Freedom Shield exercise from 4 to 14 March. The exercise included both field and computer-simulated components, designed to counteract nuclear and conventional threats. It comprised a total of 48 field drills, including: [YonhapUSFKNHK]  

  • 7 March: ROK fighter jets engaged aerial targets simulating cruise missiles and dropped guided bombs to destroy simulated artillery pieces. [Yonhap
  • 13 March: ROK fighter jets practised intercepting enemy aircraft and cruise missiles and dropping guided bombs to destroy missile launchers. [Yonhap
  • 14 March: ROK armoured units executed a live-fire exercise near the DMZ in coordination with a combined ROK-US engineering team. [Yonhap
DPRK military drills

DPRK leader Kim Jong Un oversaw a series of KPA training activities on 6, 7 and 13 March. During his inspection, Kim called for intensifying “practical actual war drills” to “control even the slightest attempt [of the enemy] to ignite a war.” The drills included: 

  • 6 March: a live ammunition exercise conducted at a KPA operational training facility. [KCNA
  • 7 March: a live artillery exercise carried out by frontline units with capabilities to target Seoul. [KCNA
  • 13 March: a tank training competition, showcasing the DPRK’s most advanced tanks. [KCNA


US risk assessment on DPRK

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) in the United States has published its 2024 threat assessment, stating that DPRK leader Kim Jong Un “almost certainly has no intentions of negotiating away his nuclear program.” The report assessed that Kim “will continue to pursue nuclear and conventional military capabilities [...] which will enable periodic aggressive actions as he tries to reshape the regional security environment in his favor.” [ODNI]  

United States open to “interim steps” with the DPRK

In efforts to mitigate the nuclear threat from the DPRK, two senior US officials underscored the importance of “interim steps” toward the complete denuclearisation of the Peninsula. “Interim steps” usually refer to incentives encouraging the DPRK to cease its nuclear weapon testing and developments. [Hankyoreh, Yonhap, Yonhap

Taiwan Strait Final (3)

Image credit: 'Taiwan Presidential Office' Flickr account.


Easing of maritime tensions

Tsai Ming-Yen, the Director-General of Taiwan’s National Security Bureau, reported in a Legislative Yuan session that maritime confrontations in the waters surrounding Taiwan’s offshore Kinmen islands have de-escalated since 1 March. Tsai added that no intelligence points to continued tension escalation or an imminent war. [CNARTI

Previously, in late February, China Coast Guard and Taiwan Coast Guard confronted each other in waters near Kinmen after two Chinese fishermen drowned during a chase with the Taiwan Coast Guard. [Event Horizon Issue 3]

US navy operations in Taiwan Strait and Ishigaki visit

On 5 March, a US destroyer navigated through the Taiwan Strait. Subsequently, on 11 March, another US destroyer visited Ishigaki, Japan, marking the first visit by a principal US surface combat vessel to the strategically significant island. Ishigaki lies approximately 160 km from the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, contested by both China and Japan, and around 220 km from Taiwan. [US 7th Fleet, NHK, Event Horizon Issue 2


Green Berets reportedly start extended deployment in Taiwan

According to Taiwanese media, pursuant to the 2023 US National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), instructors from the US Army Special Forces, known as the Green Berets, initiated their extended deployment in 2024 on Penghu and Kinmen islands to train amphibious battalions and special forces of the Taiwan army. A Pentagon spokesperson declined to comment on specific training activities but stressed that US support for Taiwan remains aligned against the current threat posed by China. [UDN, TTV, VOA]

Military aids to Taiwan

In its fiscal year 2025 budget proposal for the US Department of State, the White House, for the first time, broke out Taiwan as a specific line item for a 100 million USD package aimed at enhancing Taiwan’s defensive capabilities. Additionally, in the Department of Defense’s budget proposal for 2025, an allocation of 500 million USD is designated to compensate the US military for potential equipment provisions to Taiwan under the 2024 NDAA. These financial requests were publicised shortly after President Joe Biden affirmed in his annual State of the Union address the United States’ commitment to upholding peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. [US State DepartmentUS DoDWhite House]

According to an annual threat assessment released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence of the United States, despite slow economic growth, China will continue to induce Taiwan to move toward unification in 2024. [ODNI

Scs Final (3)

Image credit: Philippine Coast Guard 'X' account.


China-Philippine maritime tension escalates

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) has reported that vessels from the China Coast Guard (CCG) and Chinese Maritime Militia engaged in confrontations with Philippine vessels on 5 March, employing water cannons and causing collisions to obstruct a resupply mission to the Sierra Madre, a landing ship grounded in 1999 to serve as an outpost at the disputed Ayungin Shoal/Ren’ai Jiao. The CCG stated that, out of humanitarian considerations, it let one of the four Philippine vessels pass as a “special temporary arrangement” and carried out professional law enforcement against the other three. [PIAPCGCCGABS-CBN

The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea has labelled this encounter as the most severe to date, noting that the use of water cannons resulted in injuries to four Filipino crew members. [ABS-CBN]

Philippines holds first combined arms drill

On 8 March, the Philippine Army commenced its first Army’s Combined Arms Training Exercise, Katihan, with the participation of 6,000 soldiers. Concurrently, Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. announced the adoption of the Comprehensive Archipelagic Defense Concept, aimed at enhancing the capabilities required for safeguarding the nation’s territorial integrity and exclusive economic zones. The 10-day Katihan drill aims to test the army’s capability to repel an invasion. [GMAPNAPNA]

Manila says the SCS is the “real flashpoint,” prepares for Taiwan contingency

The Philippine Ambassador to the United States has stated that the SCS, not the Taiwan Strait, is the “real flashpoint” in the region. Ambassador Jose Manuel Romualdez, speaking at a forum, expressed concerns that a significant event in the SCS could prompt the United States or the Philippines to invoke the Mutual Defense Treaty, potentially leading to severe consequences. [PNA

In parallel, the Philippines is advancing plans to construct a civilian port in Batanes, located approximately 200 km southeast of Taiwan, with funding from the United States. This infrastructure is intended to provide refuge for Filipino workers from Taiwan in case of a Taiwan Strait conflict. [Philstar, TaiwanPlus


Australia, Vietnam enhance bilateral relations

During Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh’s visit to Australia, the two countries elevated their diplomatic relations to a comprehensive strategic partnership. This enhancement aims to bolster bilateral cooperation in defence and security as well as strengthen collaboration on regional and international levels to foster an “open, stable, and prosperous” Indo-Pacific, among other goals. [Hanoi Times

Nato Russia Final

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


US intelligence threat assessment: Russia avoids direct clash with NATO

The 2024 annual threat assessment report from the US Office of the Director of National Intelligences indicates that Russia almost certainly seeks to avoid a direct military conflict with US and NATO forces, preferring instead to engage in asymmetric activities below the perceived threshold of military conflict globally. This assessment contrasts recent comments by US President Biden and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who have raised concerns about the possibility of Russian military aggression extending beyond Ukraine to other nations. [ODNIAssociated PressThe White House]

FAS challenges claim about Russia’s “vast nuclear expansion”

The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) published its annual assessment of Russia’s nuclear capabilities that challenges claims of Moscow’s “vast nuclear expansion.” The analysis indicates that Russia’s nuclear modernisation is mainly focused on updating “systems that are aging out,” without representing a change in Moscow’s long-standing nuclear strategy. The FAS cautions that overstating the threat posed by Russia’s nuclear modernisation could lead to miscalculation, unnecessary expansion of US nuclear capabilities and further resistance to arms control. [FASBulletin of Atomic Scientists]

Sweden joins NATO

After a nearly two-year ratification process, on 7 March, Sweden officially became the 32nd member of NATO, concluding its long-standing policy of neutrality since World War II and over two centuries of non-alignment. [NATO News]

EU releases its first Defence Industrial Strategy

The European Commission has released its first Defence Industrial Strategy, intended to enhance the competitiveness and preparedness of the European defence sector. This strategy introduces the European Defence Industry Programme with the aim to enable the defence industries of EU member states to produce “more and faster”. The programme is expected to allocate 1.5 billion EUR from the EU budget to encourage cooperative weapons procurement, production and collaboration among manufacturers. [European Commission] 


Presidential elections in Russia

The upcoming Russian presidential elections, set for 15-17 March, are expected to prolong Vladimir Putin’s tenure by an additional six years, securing him a fifth term as president. Reportedly, after the elections, Russia’s elites anticipate the first significant government reshuffle since 2020 that would likely further consolidate Putin’s control over the country. [ReutersReutersBloomberg

There is an ongoing debate among member states of the EU Parliament and the Council of Europe about recognising the results of the Russian presidential elections. This debate arises from several concerns: increasing repression against domestic opposition, Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, the violations of its constitution and international law, and the fact that the upcoming presidential elections will take place in the Ukrainian territories occupied by Russia. [PACEMeduza]

Putin to receive proposals for denouncing “unfavourable” international agreements

Konstantin Kosachev, Russia’s Deputy Speaker of the Federation Council, announced that proposals would be submitted to President Vladimir Putin to denounce international agreements perceived as unfavourable to Russia. Specific treaty areas were not disclosed. This action follows an initial proposal by Valentina Matvienko, Chair of the Federation Council, to reevaluate and possibly terminate treaties that advantage “adversarial nations.” [TASS

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