The Shadow of the B-52 on the Korean Peninsula: a symbolic warning for the North

America has announced that it will deploy B-52 bombers in a series of fly-overs and simulated air raids during joint military drills currently being conducted with their South Korean allies. Whilst the drills are a yearly event, the timing of the latest war games are surely no coincidence. The North Korean regime of Kim Jong-Un has continued its uncompromising belligerence. After conducting its third nuclear test in December, the North has responded to further UN sanctions with a series of artillery drills and incendiary governmental statements, including the threat of a nuclear attack against the USA, a reignition of the Korean War (including abandoning the 1953 armistice) and the acceleration of the country’s nuclear programme.

Kim Jong-Un's rhetoric is increasing in aggession
Kim Jong-Un’s rhetoric is increasing in aggession

Whilst these threats are not unprecedented, their intensity and consistency in recent weeks has drawn a response from the US, which has pledged to increase its missile defence shield on the Pacific Coast in Alaska. Furthermore, the introduction of the B-52 Stratofortress into the Korean military drills is a symbolic statement that the US will not back down.

Whilst the B-52 was not deployed during the Korean War, one of its predecessors, the B-29 Superfortress, was to devastating effect. The Soviet-backed North Koreans were subjected to intensive bombing from the B-29 which resulted in the total annihilation of the North’s industrial base and the devastation of its towns and cities. The B-29 had a payload of approximately 9,000kg. The B-52’s payload is approximately 31,500kg. Its destructive capabilities were evident during the Vietnam War.

A B-29 drops its payload on North Korea during a 1951 raid
A B-29 drops its payload on North Korea during a 1951 raid

Capable of carrying a variety of bombs, including nuclear weapons, the damage the B-52 could inflict upon North Korea is graphically imaginable. Yet its deployment during the current military drills with South Korea is also important because of what the aircraft represents. It was a symbol of the Cold War, the preeminent strategic bomber poised to wreak havoc on the communist world should the need arrive. It is a symbol of anti-communism and of American resolve to bring its enemies to their knees. For the last truly Stalinist regime, and a state happy to dub itself an American enemy, the B-52’s deployment is a particularly poignant message to the North Koreans.

With further upgrades in the design phase to come, the B-52 will remain in service until at least the 2040s. Will it have played an active role on the Korean Peninsula by then? Its introduction in 1955 meant it missed out on the first Korean War. Could there really be another one?

As I have emphasised before in this blog, the chances of North Korea launching an unprovoked attack against its southern neighbours or the USA are slim. Such an act would be suicidal and, should a nuclear strike be ruled out, the B-52 would no doubt be on standby to inflict a terrible revenge on the Kim regime.

Perhaps this “extended deterrence”, as the Pentagon calls it, is designed as a historical warning to North Korea, and even its Chinese allies, that any challenge to world peace will be met with the same ferocity as was shown during the Cold War. The Americans are not willing to give up their preeminent position in the world without a fight.

A B-52 embarking from a US air base in Osan, March 19th.
A B-52 embarking from a US air base in Osan, March 19th. Source: CNN

Author: Stefan Lang

An interested observer of current affairs, researcher and writer

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