Event Horizon - Issue 8

Update for: 1-15 May 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.

Learn more

Korean Peninsula Final (4)

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


Incident over Yellow Sea 

The Australian navy reported that a Chinese fighter jet dropped flares in front of an Australian helicopter over the Yellow Sea, on 4 May, while the Australian aircraft was conducting maritime surveillance to enforce UN sanctions on North Korea. Australian officials urged the Chinese military to refrain from engaging in “unsafe and unprofessional” behaviours. In response, a PLA spokesperson stated that the Australian helicopter was driven away as it was spying on the training of PLAN vessels. [Australian Government, 81.cn

Continued collaborations between N. Korea, Russia 

In early May, US National Security Communications Advisor John Kirby disclosed that Russia delivered over 165,000 barrels of refined petroleum to North Korea in March alone, noting that Russian shipments so far this year had already surpassed the 500,000-barrel annual cap mandated by the UN Security Council. [Reuters]

On 9 May, US Senior Official for North Korea Jung Pak expressed renewed concerns over escalating military cooperation between North Korea and Russia, including unlawful arms transfers, during discussions with her Chinese counterpart in Tokyo. Against this backdrop, a North Korean science and technology delegation travelled to Moscow to talk with senior Russian officials and visit an area often referred to as Russia’s Silicon Valley. [Yonhap, Yonhap, NKnews

North Korea military activities
  • 10 May: Kim Jong Un inspected the test fire of guided 240 mm multiple rocket launchers (MRLs). [KCNA]

  • 11-12 May: Kim Jong Un inspected munition factories, including one that produces the guided 240 mm MRLs, slated for delivery to newly established KPA artillery units this year. [KCNA, Yonhap]

  • 14 May: Kim Jong Un inspected the production of tactical aero-ballistic missile systems, designated for deployment to the “firepower assault combined units of the KPA's western operation group.” [KCNA]

South Korea military activities 
  • 10-12 May: A joint defence drill, involving troops from the army, navy, air force and marine corps, on the border islands in the West Sea/Yellow Sea. [Yonhap

  • 13 May: A live-fire drill, involving vessels and aircraft from the navy, army and air force, in the East Sea/Sea of Japan. [Yonhap, 유용원]

  • 14 May: An air defence drill by the Air Force Operations Command, joined by the army, navy and marine corps, to simulate intercepting over 800 aerial targets. [Yonhap]

The South Korean military is also considering redeploying troops inside the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that separates the two Koreas. This comes after North Korea restored guard posts within the DMZ, following Pyongyang's announcement in late 2023 that it would no longer observe the 2018 inter-Korean military accord. [Yonhap

Taiwan Strait and SCS Final

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


Tension ahead of Taiwan’s presidential inauguration

In the lead-up to the 20 May inauguration of Taiwan’s President-elect Lai Ching-te, Taiwan's government alleged that China's military had sailed and flown closer to Taiwan in recent weeks. Some of the PLA aircraft were reported to have simulated attacks on foreign vessels entering the southern Taiwan Strait or the Bashi Channel, which separates Taiwan from the Philippines. [Reuters, Reuters, Event Horizon Issue 7]

The Taiwan Coast Guard also reported that vessels from Chinese maritime authorities entered waters around Taiwan’s frontline Islands Kinmen five times between 1 and 14 May. This frequency exceeds the observed occurrences in the previous two months, which were limited to four times per month. The China Coast Guard commenced maritime patrols in waters close to Kinmen in late February 2024 following an incident where two Chinese nationals drowned during a chase with the Taiwan Coast Guard. [Taiwan Coast Guard, CCG, Event Horizon Issue 3]

China, Philippines dispute on “internal agreements,” island building


Location of Second Thomas Shoal, Pag-asa island and Sabina Shoal 

  • China’s foreign ministry alleged that the Philippines’ failure to honour the “internal understandings and arrangements” reached with both former and current Philippine governments had led to the maritime standoff near the Second Thomas Shoal/Ren’ai Jiao. The Philippine government has dismissed the Chinese claim. [Chinese MFA, PNA, Japan Times]

  • A national security adviser of the Philippines said that the “fabrications” of the “internal arrangements” were intended to distract the world from Beijing’s intention to build a “geologic feature” close to the Pag-asa island to reverse the 2016 South China Sea Arbitration. On 5 May, the Philippine’s Inquirer reported that China may be preparing to build an “island” in waters close to Pag-asa, which is occupied by the Philippines. [PNA, Inquirer, SCS arbitration

  • On 13 May, the Philippine Coast Guard reported multiple sightings of Chinese maritime vessels in Sabina Shoal/Xianbin Jiao, where China is in the initial stages of constructing an artificial island. In response, the Chinese foreign ministry urged the Philippines to refrain from making “irresponsible remarks.” [PCG, The Manila Times, Chinese MFA, SCMP

Chinese, US naval activities in SCS

As the Philippines and the United States concluded their largest annual bilateral exercise, Balikatan 2024, on 10 May, a US destroyer sailed in the South China Sea after transiting the Taiwan Strait to “demonstrate the United States’ commitment to upholding freedom of navigation.” Meanwhile, multiple Chinese destroyers reportedly conducted combat training in the South China Sea during this period. [US 7TH Fleet, US 7TH Fleet, CNR]


South Korea’s possible partnership in AUKUS Pillar II 

After a meeting of foreign and defence ministers between Australia and South Korea on 1 May, South Korean Defense Minister Shin Won-sik stated that South Korea’s potential participation in AUKUS Pillar II would contribute to peace and stability in the region. AUKUS Pillar II focuses on a range of advanced military capabilities and improves interoperability between the armed forces of member states. [Yonhap, UK Parliament

Earlier in April, defence chiefs from Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States said that the three countries were considering cooperation with Japan on AUKUS Pillar II. [Japan Times]

Nato Russia Final

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


War in Ukraine: Latest Developments
  • On 10 May, Russia launched a new offensive on Ukraine’s Kharkiv region, capturing four border villages and advancing towards the town of Vovchansk. On 15 May, with the situation deteriorating, President Zelenskyy postponed planned foreign travel as Kyiv reported that Russian infantry had entered the northeastern border town of Vovchansk. Analysts suggest the main Russian objective is to reach the strategic town of Kupyansk behind Ukrainian lines, which could collapse Kyiv's defences in the Kharkiv-Luhansk-Donetsk region if successful. [Kyiv Independent, Reuters, Meduza]

  • On 7 May, the Security Service of Ukraine claimed a network of Russia's Federal Security Service was planning to assassinate Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other prominent Ukrainian officials. Two Ukrainian colonels accused of leaking classified information to Russia have been arrested on suspicion of treason.[NYT, Kyiv Independent

  • A high-ranking Ukrainian military source said that the first batch of F-16 fighter jets from Western allies would arrive in Ukraine in June or July. The Russian foreign ministry warned that Russia would consider these aircraft as “nuclear-capable” and viewed the delivery as a “deliberate provocation”. [Reuters, Russian MFA

Russia and Belarus to conduct joint tactical nuclear exercises 

On 6 May, Russia’s Defence Ministry announced preparations for three-stage exercises aimed at “increasing the readiness of non-strategic nuclear forces”, citing “provocative statements and threats” from the West. The next day, Belarus announced that it had begun a “sudden inspection of delivery vehicles” for non-strategic (tactical) nuclear weapons, citing the military-political situation around Belarus and synchronisation with Russia’s drills on using non-strategic nuclear weapons. On 9 May, President Putin confirmed that Belarus would join Russia’s exercises at the second stage. [Rus MOD, Belarusian MOD, TASS, Channel One Russia]

This will not be the first time such exercises are conducted. This time, however, Russia has not only publicly disclosed the exercises but also justified them by citing actions of Western countries. [Meduza, Pavel Podvig X, WSJ, Channel One Russia

Russia plans to manufacture INF-banned missiles

Russia has announced plans to manufacture intermediate and shorter-range missiles that were previously banned under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. In a statement dated 6 May, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said it will "step up the upgrade and start manufacturing" these missiles, alleging the United States' deployment of such missiles under the guise of military drills in Europe and the Asia-Pacific Region. The Russian MFA warned that it "reserves the right to respond in kind, which would amount to the termination of Russia's unilateral moratorium on the deployment of these weapon systems." [Russian MFA

The INF Treaty banned all of the two nations' nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and missile launchers with ranges of 500–5,500 km. [INF Treaty]

Putin appoints new Minister of Defence

As part of the regular government reshuffle, Vladimir Putin dismissed Sergei Shoigu from his position as Defence Minister. Andrey Belousov, a former Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs, was appointed as Shoigu's replacement. This development coincided with the arrests of two senior Defence Ministry officials, Timur Ivanov and Yuri Kuznetsov, on charges of large-scale bribery. The personnel changes and arrests might indicate a broader reshuffle within the Defence Ministry as Putin begins his fifth presidential term amidst the ongoing war in Ukraine. [Federation Council, Investigative Committee (SKR), TASS

Russian officials assert that Belousov's appointment is critical for integrating economic strategies to enhance Russia's military efforts in Ukraine, specifically through integrating technological innovations in the armed forces. [Vedomosti, Politico, RBC] 

France, EU urge China to stop support for Russia

Chinese President Xi Jinping visited France, Serbia and Hungary from 5 to 10 May. At a trilateral meeting in Paris, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and French President Emmanuel Macron urged Xi to prevent the transfer of lethal equipment and dual-use materials to Moscow. According to diplomatic sources from France, Xi said that Beijing had no plans to send weapons to Moscow and was ready to look into the matter of dual-use materials. In the Chinese readout, however, Xi stated that China "opposes using the Ukraine crisis to scapegoat or smear a third country, and instigate a 'new Cold War.’’' [VOA, Reuters, European Commission, Chinese MFA]


Putin-Xi summit in Beijing

Russian President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to visit China on May 16-17, marking his first foreign trip since beginning his new six-year term. [Reuters]

US prohibits Russian low-enriched uranium imports

President Biden signed legislation prohibiting the import of “unirradiated low-enriched uranium produced in the Russian Federation or by a Russian enterprise.” This measure will take effect 90 days following the law's enactment and is set to expire at the end of 2040. The law provides for a temporary workaround until the beginning of 2028, allowing the US Department of Energy to permit imports of Russian uranium if no other supply sources are available. Notably, Russia supplies nearly a quarter of the enriched uranium used in American nuclear power plants, making it the top foreign supplier. Annually, these imports contribute approximately 1 billion USD to Moscow's revenues. [White House, Forbes]

Subscribe to Event Horizon
One Earth Future

Open Nuclear Network (ONN) is a programme of One Earth Future, an incubator of innovative peacebuilding programs in which they design, test and partner to scale programs that work hand in hand with communities to eliminate the root causes of war.

We use cookies to provide the best possible User experience. You can read more about our usage of cookies in our Privacy Policy