Monday, April 23, 2012
North Korea, you goin' nuts??
North Korea threatened Monday to launch special military actions against key South Korean targets, further escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula following the North's botched rocket launch.
The military warned in a statement carried by state media that it would launch "special actions" soon against the South Korean government and conservative media.
However, there was no outward sign of tension on the North Korean side of the Demilitarized Zone. At Panmunjom, small groups of tourists were touring the "peace" village and the buildings where the Korean War armistice was signed in 1953. The South Korean side was quiet.
The notice and other North Korean statements described South Korean President Lee Myung-bak as a "rat," making personal attacks against the conservative president, who has pursued a hard-line policy toward Pyongyang.
For days, North Korea has railed against South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and conservative South Korean media for criticizing its rocket launch and the celebrations of the centennial of Kim Il Sung's birth.
But Monday's message, distributed by the state-run Korean Central News Agency and attributed to the "special operation action group" of the Korean People's Army's Supreme Command, was unusual in its specificity.
The threat from the North's military leadership comes amid concerns that North Korea may be plotting another provocation in the wake of an unsuccessful rocket launch condemned by the U.N. Security Council as a violation of a ban against missile activity.
North Korea characterized the April 13 rocket launch as a failed bid to send a satellite into space – not a disguised test of missile technology – but then followed up two days later by unveiling a new long-range missile at a military birthday parade for late President Kim Il Sung.
However, it is unlikely that North Korea would launch a large-scale military attack against Seoul, which is backed by nearly 30,000 U.S. troops stationed in the South, said Kim Young-soo, a professor at Sogang University in Seoul.
The notice said the North's targets include Lee and conservative South Korean media, though it did not elaborate on details of the North's possible attacks.
Baek Seung-joo, a senior analyst at the state-run Korea Institute of Defense Analyses, said the North's unusually strong rhetoric could mean a possible terrorist attack by the North on the South.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned North Korea against "further provocative measures," telling reporters in New York late Monday that such actions "will not be desirable for the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula."
North Korea has a track record of terrorist attacks against South Korea, including the 1987 bombing of a South Korean airliner near Myanmar that killed all 115 passengers aboard.
In 1968, 31 North Korean commandos infiltrated Seoul in a failed assassination attempt on then President Park Chung-hee. North Korean defector Lee Han-yong, a relative of Kim Jong-il's mistress, was killed in 1997 in what South Korea believed was an assassination by North Korean agents.
South Korea is within striking distance of North Korea's missiles. Seoul, the South Korean capital city of more than 10 million people, is also within range of North Korea's conventional artillery.
There are new concerns that North Korea may conduct a nuclear test as it did after rocket launches in 2006 and 2009. South Korean intelligence officials say recent satellite images show the North has been digging a new tunnel in what could be preparation for a third atomic test.
The North has also recently vowed to stage a "sacred war" against South Korea and "blow up" Seoul for insulting its dignity over the rocket launch and the celebrations marking the centennial of the April 15 birth of the country's late founder Kim Il-sung, the grandfather of current leader Kim Jong-un.
Lee said the North's failed rocket launch is estimated to have cost Pyongyang about US$850 million, the equivalent of buying 2.5 million tons of corn for North Koreans.
South Korea expressed deep concern that the North's threats and accusations have worsened inter-Korean ties and heightened tensions. "We urge North Korea to immediately stop this practice," said Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-suk.
The North has made similar military threats against the South over the past several months, although no actual attack has occurred.
South Korea has repeatedly vowed to powerfully retaliate against North Korea in the event of any provocation as a revenge for the North's two provocations in 2010 that killed 50 South Koreans, mostly soldiers.
Meanwhile, North Korean defectors and South Korean activists opened the annual North Korea Freedom Week in Seoul on Sunday as part of their efforts to highlight the dismal human rights record in the North.
North Korea's military warned Monday of imminent "special actions" that would reduce South Korea's conservative government to ashes within minutes, sharply escalating the rhetoric against its southern rival.
The threat comes as North Korea's new commander in chief, Kim Jong Un, makes a strong show of support for the "military first" policy championed by his father, late leader Kim Jong Il. North Korea marks the 80th anniversary of the founding of its army Wednesday.
Seoul expressed worry that the threats were hurting relations between the countries and increasing animosity.
Also Monday, the North's Foreign Ministry warned in a separate report carried by the KCNA that North Koreans "are now eagerly waiting for the issue of an order so that they may mercilessly punish the traitor."
The latest militaristic warning came in response to Lee's recent comments that Pyongyang claimed have hurt the dignity of the North's new leader Kim Jong-un.
Last week, Lee urged Kim to give up the collective farm system and privatize state-owned agricultural land to help enrich the North and its residents. Lee also called on the young North Korean leader to pay greater attention to the human rights and defector issues.
Kim vowed to uphold the dying wish of his late father, long-time leader Kim Jong-il, who pursued nuclear and missile programs as well as a military-first policy. The North has said the world should not expect any change from it.
A South Korean Defense Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with departmental rules, said no special military movement had been observed in the North.
In November 2010, after issuing a warning to the South Korean government, North Korean troops showered artillery on a front-line island in disputed western waters held by South Korea. The attack killed four people, including two civilians.
Clearly, Pyongyang is looking to distract its subjects from the military failure earlier this month. However, this threat goes beyond their normal bluster, as the AP notes above. Threats from the DPRK usually use more general terminology, and especially timeframes, as the Kim regimes attempt to force some concessions from their opponents in the rational world.
In this case, I’d guess that the issue is starvation. Lee Myung-bak cut off food aid from the South in 2008 that didn’t get tied to concessions from Pyongyang, and now the latest missile test has ended the food shipments from the US as well. The military needs that food aid to keep the rank and file from rebelling, let alone the unfortunate people of the DPRK. Kim can’t afford to let the army starve, and he can’t domestically produce the food necessary to keep it from happening. He needs that food aid to resume in order to keep his new position as hereditary dictator.
If the DPRK seriously tries terrorist attacks in Seoul, however, starvation will be the least of their concerns. This could become a shooting war again, and it will take a mighty careful balance to keep it from expanding to China, Japan, and Russia all over again. Right now it looks like bluster, especially since Pyongyang hasn’t moved any troops to the border after their announcement, but the threat of terrorist attacks won’t be taken lightly by Seoul or the US.