Event Horizon Issue 9

Update for: 16 May-5 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.


Military activities on the Peninsula 
  • 17 May: Kim Jong Un supervised the test fire of several Hwasong-11 series aero-ballistic missiles featuring an “autonomous navigation system.” [KCNA]
  • 27 May: Hours after the North notified Japan of its plan to launch a spy satellite, 20 South Korean fighter jets, including F-35A stealth fighters, conducted a “strike package exercise” south of the inter-Korean border. [Yonhap]
  • 27 May: North Korea attempted to launch a spy satellite with a “new type carrier rocket”, which exploded during the first stage flight reportedly due to the failure of newly developed liquid oxygen-kerosene engines. [KCNA, NHK]
  • 28 May: More than 90 South Korean and US military aircraft, including the South's F-35A stealth fighters, staged a regular live-fire drill. [Yonhap]
  • 30 May: In response to South Korea’s air drills, Kim Jong Un oversaw a salvo-fire of 18 guided, nuclear-capable rockets from 600 mm multiple-rocket launchers. [KCNA]
  • Early June: South Korean and US troops conducted a large-scale river-crossing exercise involving 243 combat vehicles and aircraft. [Yonhap]
  • 5 June: South Korea and US air forces conducted a joint bombing drill, involving at least one B-1B strategic bomber for the first time in seven years. [Yonhap]
South Korea fully halts inter-Korean military accord

Since 28 May, North Korea has sent approximately 1,000 balloons carrying “trash and manure” to South Korea. This action was described by Pyongyang as a response to South Korean activists who airdropped anti-North Korea leaflets with balloons. Concurrently, North Korea jammed GPS signals near the Northern Limit Line in the West Sea. In reaction, South Korea's Presidential National Security Council decided to suspend the 2018 inter-Korean military accord. This suspension may lead to the resumption of loudspeaker broadcasts and live-fire drills near the inter-Korean border. [Yonhap, KCNA, Yonhap, The Korea Times, C-SPAN]

In late 2023, Pyongyang declared that it would no longer observe the 2018 inter-Korean military accord. Since then, South Korea has partially resumed military activities that were previously banned under the accord. [Yonhap, Event Horizon Issue 8]

Dynamics in Beijing-Moscow-Pyongyang relations

On 27 May, a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesperson criticised the inclusion of "denuclearization" in the joint declaration of the ninth ROK-Japan-China Trilateral Summit held in Seoul. This rare criticism of China is interpreted as an indication that Pyongyang is aligning more closely with Moscow amid the complex dynamics between these three countries. [KCNA, 38north, VOA, Joint trilateral summit declaration]

Taiwan Strait and SCS Final

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


Taiwan presidential inauguration and PLA military exercises

Dr Lai Ching-te took office as Taiwan’s fifth democratically elected president on 20 May. In his inauguration speech, Lai reiterated the cross-Strait policy of the previous Tsai Ing-wen administration, stating that “the Republic of China (Taiwan) and the People’s Republic of China are not subordinate to each other.” He also affirmed that his administration would “neither yield nor provoke” while striving to maintain the cross-Strait status quo. [Taiwan Presidential Office, Taiwan Presidential Office, Mainland Affairs Council, Taiwan]

Exercise zones of the Joint Sword-2024A

Exercise zones of the Joint Sword-2024A. Image: CGTN

On May 23, the Chinese military launched the Joint Sword-2024A exercise around the main and offshore islands of Taiwan. This was described as a "resolute punishment" for Lai's “provocative statements.” Taiwan's National Security Bureau chief, Tsai Ming-yen, stated that the two-day exercise aimed to intimidate Taiwan and showcase China's military capabilities to both domestic and international audiences. Tsai added that more exercises targeting Taiwan could be expected as the Chinese military enters its routine training season from June to early November. [CGTN, PTS]

In May, the Taiwan military reported detecting 469 Chinese military aircraft, with 287 aircraft crossing the Strait Median Line, and a constant presence of Chinese naval and coast guard ships near Taiwan. [Taiwan MND, DPP]

Tension in the South China Sea
  • On 19 May, the China Coast Guard (CCG) reportedly seized and dumped airdropped supplies for Filipino troops stationed at the Sierra Madre, a landing ship grounded in 1999 to serve as a military outpost in the Second Thomas Shoal/Ren’ai Jiao. Chinese state media reported that troops on board the Sierra Madre pointed guns at the CCG while the latter was conducting law enforcement operations. [ABS-CBN, Inquirer, ChinaNews, Event Horizon Issue 8]
  • China’s “Administrative Law Enforcement Procedures for Coast Guard Institutions” will take effect on 15 June. Under these procedures, the CCG can detain foreigners suspected of trespassing for up to 60 days. Earlier, on 16 May, around 200 Philippine volunteers and 100 fishermen reportedly broke through a blockade of Chinese vessels to deliver supplies to fishermen at the Scarborough Shoal/Huangyan Island. [CCG, ABS-CBN, GMA, ANC]
  • Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said during the Shangri-la Dialogue in Singapore that the killing of any Filipino citizen in the South China Sea would be “very close” to an act of war. He also noted that treaty partners of the Philippines held the same standard. [CNN, GMA
Deployment of US surveillance drones in Philippines 

At Manila's request, the US Marine Corps has begun the rotational deployment of unarmed MQ-9A drones at the Philippines’ Basa Air Base. This initiative supports intelligence sharing between US Indo-Pacific Command and the Armed Forces of the Philippines. [USNI]


US to conduct large-scale exercises with allies

From 7 to 18 June, the Valiant Shield exercise will take place, with Japan participating for the first time. Japan will mobilise around 4,000 personnel, some 130 vehicles, and about 60 aircraft for the exercise. [Japan Times]

From 26 June to 2 August, the Rim of the Pacific exercise will be held, involving approximately 29 nations, 40 surface ships, 3 submarines, 14 national land forces, over 150 aircraft, and more than 25,000 personnel. [US Pacific Fleet]

Nato Russia Final

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


Ukraine allowed to use Western weapons on targets in Russia

US President Joe Biden approved the use of US-supplied weapons to target locations in Russia involved in attacks on Ukraine's Kharkiv region. In response, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that Russia might provide similar weapons to its allies for strikes on countries aiding attacks against Russia. Following the US decision, Germany also permitted its weapons to be used for limited strikes on Russian territory. Other countries reportedly granting similar permissions include the Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia and North Macedonia. In an interview with The Economist, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg urged other NATO members to consider lifting some of the restrictions on the use of weapons donated to Ukraine. [US Department of State, Kremlin, DW, Al Jazeera, The Economist]

Early warning radars attacked in Russia

Ukraine conducted airstrikes against two long-range radars, part of Russia’s nuclear early warning system. Published satellite imagery shows dark spots at the radar sites, but these are insufficient to indicate the extent of possible damage. A Ukrainian official justified the strikes, stating that Russia used these radars to monitor Ukrainian military activities and the use of aerial weaponry. The US expressed concerns that such strikes could have a destabilising effect. [Kyiv Independent, RFE/RL, RFE/RL, WP]

One of the radars targeted by Ukrainian drones is situated around 1,800 km from the reported launch site. [Kyiv Independent]

Russia begins non-strategic nuclear weapons exercise

On 21 May, Russia's Ministry of Defense announced the start of a non-strategic nuclear weapons exercise. According to a video released by the ministry, the exercise involved:

  • Vehicles from the 12th Main Directorate, responsible for the storage, maintenance and transport of nuclear warheads
  • Iskander-M tactical missile systems
  • Tu-22M3 long-range bombers
  • MiG-31 aircraft armed with "Kinzhal" hypersonic missiles

According to previous statements by President Vladimir Putin, Belarus is expected to join Russia in the second stage of the exercise. The ministry stated that the exercise was prompted by "provocative statements and threats made by certain Western officials." [Rus MOD, Rus MOD Telegram, Event Horizon Issue 8

Putin’s state visit to China

During his two-day state visit to Beijing, Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping agreed to further strengthen strategic bilateral relations and enhance coordination to counter US influence. However, Xi did not publicly reaffirm the "no limits" partnership declared before Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The two leaders warned against interstate conflicts, particularly among nuclear powers, reaffirmed the statement that "a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought" and expressed concern over US missile defence initiatives. [Kremlin, Kremlin, PRC MFA, PRC MFA]


Ukraine Peace Summit faces key absences

The Ukraine Peace Summit on 15-16 June in Switzerland is losing key support, with China and US President Joe Biden notably not attending. China's absence follows discussions with Russia during Putin’s state visit to China earlier in May. Furthermore, China and Brazil proposed a counter-initiative for peace talks that, among other things, should include Russia’s participation. At the summit, the US will be represented by Vice President Kamala Harris and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, as Biden attends a presidential election campaign event scheduled on the same dates. Despite this, the White House confirmed that Biden will meet President Zelenskyy in France and Italy before the summit. [PRC MFA, FT, Politico, White House, Bloomberg, CNN] 

During the Shangri-La Dialogue, Zelenskyy expressed rare public frustration with China. He referred to Beijing as "an instrument in the hands of Putin" and stated that Russia used Chinese influence and diplomats to "disrupt the peace summit." [CNA]

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