Tensions rise as US B-52 bomber flies over Korean peninsula


The North Korean flag flies outside their embassy in Beijing on Dec. 12, 2012.


Mark Ralston

A US B-52 bomber will fly over the Korean peninsula on Tuesday for a second time this month in a show of force against North Korea.

“Just having the B-52 near the Korean peninsula and pass through means that the US nuclear umbrella can be provided whenever necessary,” South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min Seok said.

B-52 bombers haul air-to-ground missiles, have a firing range of about 1,864 miles, and are nuclear-capable.

Tensions in the region increased after the North's third successful underground nuclear bomb test last month.

American B-52s usually fly over South Korea during joint military exercises, and this year is no different. But Washington is playing up their presence more than previously because of North Korea's rhetorical bluster to this month's exercises.

“We are drawing attention to the fact we have extended deterrence capabilities that we believe are important to demonstrate in the wake of recent North Korean rhetoric,” said Defense Department spokesman George Little in a statement on Monday.

North Korea said recent military drills hurt its already moribund economy, and called the US a “wrecker of peace" on Tuesday. 

“A state of hypertensity has dawned upon these lands, facing war, not peace,” read a statement from the official Korean Central News Agency, according to Bloomberg News

On Monday, Japan reported that it had confiscated aluminum alloy rods used in nuclear centrifuges from a Singapore-flagged ship leaving North Korea last August, according to Agence France-Presse.

"The aluminum alloy is extremely strong and can be used in centrifuges that are products related to nuclear development," said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga.

Analysts say the discovery of centrifuge rods — which originated in North Korea and were apparently bound for Myanmar — presents more questions than answers. It's unclear why North Korea would put such sensitive cargo on a ship flagged in Singapore, which is known for good governance and strict law enforcement. North Korea has previously used flags of convenience from Cambodia, known for lax enforcement, to sneak drugs and other contraband across the high seas.

It's also unclear why a Singaporean ship carryimg the rods would make a port of call in Tokyo. Japan is one of North Korea's perceived enemies, and Tokyo has enacted special powers of inspection for ships suspected of carrying materials related to North Korea's nuclear program.

Once a pariah state, Myanmar was suspected of pursuing nuclear cooperation with North Korea, although the two countries were never close thanks to North Korea's 1983 assassination of visiting South Korean ministers. However, the government in Yangong has been instituting reforms over the past three years, relaxing military rule and pursuing a detente with the United States.

If anything, the discovery could make Washington rethink whether certain military factions in Myanmar are truly pursuing reform or using the new civilian government as a cloak to obtain nuclear technology from North Korea.

North Korea announced its plan to enrich uranium via centrifuges in 2010, according to AFP. If the program is successful, North Korea could produce uranium-based atomic bombs in addition to its plutonium program.

Adding to already high tensions, a North Korean propaganda video showing an exploded White House was recently posted on North Korea's government YouTube channel.

"The White House has been captured in the view of our long-range missile, and the capital of war is within the range of our atomic bomb," the video's narrator says, according to CNN

North Korea does not have long-range missiles capable of hitting the US.