Event Horizon - Issue 5

Update for: 15-31 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.


DPRK military activities

During the monitoring period from 15 to 31 March, DPRK leader Kim Jong Un inspected: 

  • the training of KPA paratroopers; [KCNA
  • the salvo firing of at least six nuclear-capable, 600 mm guided rockets from six multiple-rocket launchers; [YonhapKCNA
  • the static testing of a solid motor for a “new-type intermediate-range” hypersonic missile; [KCNA] and 
  • an elite tank division that was the first to enter Seoul during the Korean War. [KCNA
High-level meetings between DPRK and China, Russia

Kim Song Nam, an alternate member of the WPK Politburo and director of the WPK Central Committee’s International Department, met with top Chinese CPC officials during a visit to Beijing. This included meetings with Cai Qi and Wang Huning, both members of the CPC Politburo Standing Committee, and Wang Yi, director of the CPC Central Committee’s Foreign Affairs Commission Office. During these meetings, both sides pledged to further boost “strategic communication and tactical cooperation” between China and the DPRK. [KCNAKCNAKCNAKCNA

Meanwhile, in Pyongyang, Sergei Naryshkin, director of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, met with Ri Chang Dae, the Minister of State Security of the DPRK. The two sides reached “a complete consensus of views” on further enhancing cooperation to counter “the ever-growing spying and plotting moves by hostile forces.” Separately, a DPRK government economic delegation visited Moscow with the aim of strengthening cooperation between the DPRK and Russia. [KCNAYonhapInterfax]

Looming end of the UN PoE

The United Nations Security Council failed to extend the mandate of the Panel of Experts (PoE) that oversees the implementation of sanctions against the DPRK. This outcome resulted from Russia using its veto power while China abstained from the vote. The potential dissolution of the PoE, which was established in 2009 after the DPRK’s second nuclear test, would further undermine international efforts to curb Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programmes. [XinhuaYonhap


ROK’s arms buildup

In its 2024 policy report, the ROK’s defence ministry announced plans to finalise and deploy a range of advanced conventional weapons systems in the near future. These include long-range air and missile defence systems, domestically developed bunker-buster missiles and spy satellites. [Korea.krYonhap

Additionally, the ROK’s defence acquisition authorities plan to develop shipborne long-range air defence missiles and shipborne ballistic missiles. They also aim to produce 20 KF-21 fighter jets in 2024, which are ROK’s indigenously developed fighter jets. [YonhapKorea.krYonhap

Taiwan Strait Final (3)

Image credit: 'Taiwan Presidential Office' Flickr account.


Taiwan expands missile boat fleet

Taiwan’s navy received two fast missile boats in late March, marking the completion of the first batch production involving six domestically built missile boats. Under the second batch production run, another five boats are to be delivered by the end of 2026. The Ta Chiang class boats, heavily armed with anti-ship missiles, are part of Taiwan’s efforts to strengthen asymmetric anti-ship warfare capabilities. [Presidential OfficeFTV, Liberty Times

Japan prepares for contingency

Amid maritime disputes with China and concerns over a Taiwan Strait conflict, the Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF) deployed a newly established long-range, anti-ship missile company to Okinawa in mid-March. Additionally, the JSDF expanded an electronic warfare unit on Yonaguni Island, located 110 km east of Taiwan. [Taipei TimesNewsweek]

Furthering its defensive measures, Japan also plans to upgrade five airports and 11 ports across the country to facilitate the accommodation of coast guard and JSDF assets. Nearly half of these commercial facilities are situated in Japan’s southwestern territory in proximity to the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands and Taiwan. [Kyodo NewsNIKKEI]

Military activities near Taiwan

In March, the Taiwan military reported detecting 359 PLA military aircraft, 11 balloons and a constant presence of naval vessels around the main island of Taiwan. Concurrently, the US navy sustained the deployment of two carrier strike groups and one amphibious ready group in the Western Pacific and the South China Sea. [Taiwan MNDDPPUSNI


US Indo-Pacific Command: PLA ready to invade by 2027

During testimony before the US Senate Committee on Armed Services, US Indo-Pacific Command chief, Admiral John Aquilino, warned that all indications suggest the PLA will be prepared to invade Taiwan by 2027. Characterising China’s military expansion as the most significant since World War II, Aquilino noted that the PLA had added over 400 modern combat aircraft, 20 major warships and more than doubled its ballistic and cruise missiles since he took office in 2021. [US Congress]

The US Department of Defense reports that the PLA currently has more than 370 warships and submarines, along with over 3100 military aircraft. Additionally, the PLA Rocket Force operates over 3100 ballistic missiles and land-attack cruise missiles. [US DoD]

Japan and United States to upgrade security alliance

During Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s upcoming visit to Washington in April, the two countries are anticipated to announce the restructuring of the US military command in Japan. This restructure aims to better respond to the perceived threats from China, especially concerning potential crises in the Taiwan Strait. The two countries are also set to unveil a strategy to deepen security partnership with Australia, the Philippines and the United Kingdom within the Indo-Pacific region. [FTReutersJapan Times, Kyodo

Scs Final (3)

Image credit: Philippine Coast Guard 'X' account.


Tension escalation between China and Philippines

On 23 March, China Coast Guard vessels water-cannoned a Philippine supply ship on route to the Sierra Madre, a landing ship grounded in 1999 to serve as an outpost at the disputed Ayungin Shoal/Ren’ai Jiao, resulting in injuries of some Filipino crew. On the same day, a PLAN helicopter hovered above the sandbars off the Thitu/Zhongye Island in an apparent attempt to drive away Filipino researchers conducting surveys. [Armed Forces of the PhilippinesGMAInquirerNews5

On 28 March, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. said in a statement that he had ordered relevant government agencies to implement proportionate responses to what he called “illegal, coercive, aggressive, and dangerous attacks” by the China Coast Guard and the Chinese Maritime Militia. [PIA


Japan, Philippines and United States plan joint patrols

During their upcoming trilateral summit in Washington on 11 April, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., and US President Joe Biden are expected to announce plans for joint patrols in the South China Sea. [PoliticoKyodo

Philippines and United States to hold naval drills beyond territorial seas

For the first time in 39 years, Philippines and US navies will conduct drills beyond the Philippines’ 12-nautical-mile territorial waters as part of the annual Balikatan joint exercises in April. The French navy will participate in the “group sail” in international waters, while Australia and Japan will send observers to the exercises. [PhilstarGMA

Nato Russia Final

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


Moscow alleges Ukrainian involvement in terrorist attack

A terrorist attack on 22 March at a concert hall near Moscow resulted in 144 fatalities and left more than 550 injured. An affiliate of ISIS in Afghanistan has claimed responsibility. Following the attack, Russian state media and pro-Kremlin commentators speculated about Ukrainian responsibility. The Russian government has also accused Ukraine of potentially orchestrating the attack. This incident might be used to manipulate Russian public opinion on the war in Ukraine and to justify further domestic restrictions within Russia. According to a report by the Financial Times citing data from an online survey by OpenMinds, approximately half of the Russian population believes that Ukraine was involved in the attack. [NYTTASSKremlin, KremlinTASSTASSBBCFT]

Russia’s “revenge strikes” on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure  

In March, Russia intensified airstrikes against Ukraine’s power infrastructures, including the Dnieper Hydroelectric Power Plant, Ukraine’s largest dam, leaving over one million people without power. Russian defence ministry described the airstrike as part of a series of “revenge strikes” in response to Ukraine's attacks on Russian regions. Ukraine has carried out drone attacks on Russian oil refineries in recent weeks to disturb fuel supply to Russian troops and funding for Moscow’s war effort. [BBCVOAFT


France and United Kingdom to modernise nuclear deterrent

In the United Kingdom, a dedicated budget of at least 760 million GBP has been allocated for the next six years to enhance the nation's nuclear deterrent. This mainly includes investments in the Dreadnought class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines and the renewal and maintenance of the existing warhead stockpile. Additionally, over the next decade, more than 200 million GBP will be invested in the Barrow-in-Furness site, which will support the maintenance and production of the AUKUS submarine, as well as Britain's Astute class nuclear-powered attack submarines and the Dreadnought class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines. [UK Government, UK Government]

In France, a steel-cutting ceremony took place at Naval Group's shipyard for the country's first third-generation nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine. This new class of strategic submarines, known as the SNLE 3G, is expected to ensure France's nuclear deterrence posture until the end of the 21st century. [Naval Group]

Allies explore using profits from Russian frozen assets to support Ukraine

The European Union has drafted legislation that could allow Ukraine to receive profits generated from frozen Russian state assets as soon as July. Additionally, the United States has proposed to the Group of Seven (G7) nations the issuance of 50 billion USD in bonds, using profits from seized Russian assets, to provide support for Ukraine. The EU legislation proposal has drawn sharp criticism from Russian officials, who have threatened retaliation and denounced the measures as unlawful seizures. [WPBloombergReuters

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