Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Pyongyang’s hysteria

Amid growing worries that North Korea may soon carry out a nuclear test or launch attacks on South Korea, the U.S. urged Pyongyang Tuesday to use its energy and resources instead to improve the livelihood of its people.
Media reports based on unidentified intelligence sources suggest that the North may have almost completed preparations for another underground nuclear experiment.
It has also threatened to carry out "special military actions" against the South.
The DPRK is the acronym for the communist nation's formal name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
North Korean hysteria against the South has reached new heights with its military, government and party organizations competing to hurl the worst-ever verbal provocations, with threats of imminent “retaliatory attacks” on President Lee Myung-bak and other “anti-North” forces here. The harsher its words become, the calmer our response should be.
On Monday, a People’s Army outfit called the “Special Operations Action Group” made a “notice” to the South via the North’s official Central News Agency, warning of “a special action taking three to four minutes or even shorter time to annihilate the origin of hostilities toward us.” The target of this supposed blitz are Lee and, strangely enough, South Korea’s conservative media.
We are not keen about closely examining every word in this outburst, which sounded like an ultimatum at least for a limited war. Yet, we can conjecture what made them so angry after the pompous celebrations of the centenary of Kim Il-sung, which unfortunately included the botched launch of a long-range rocket. Lee had said, based on conservative media reports, that the North would have better used the $850 million believed spent for the presumed missile launch to buy 2.5 million tons of corn to feed its starving people.
Last week, the president made a series of candid advice to the North’s young new leader, Kim Jong-un, about making North Korean farmers self-supporting and improving the human rights situation in the North. In a Unification Ministry-sponsored seminar, he called on Kim to boldly reform the collective farms to introduce individually-responsible production system.
On a visit to the Agency for Defense Development, the president watched the video of locally-developed cruise and ballistic missiles with proven capability of precision strikes. Local media reported that these weapons can make a direct surgical attack on Kim Jong-un’s office in Pyongyang, quoting Lee as saying that the development of such arms was necessary to ensure survival against the most bellicose regime in the world.
These presidential remarks were unusually direct in pointing out the weakness of the North Korean system but Lee’s words were many times less provocative than the usual slander that North Korean official mouthpieces have thrown at the South Korean president over the past four years. Since the first inter-Korean summit in 2000, South Korean media have attached the official title of “Defense Commission chairman” to the name of Kim Jong-il and now the more general title “leader” to Kim Jong-un. The Northerners these days never fail to call Lee a “traitor” or “rat.”
The escalation of North Korean verbal attacks on the South has exhausted their vocabularies and they are now threatening us with a conundrum of an attack “using special means of our own method.” Military experts are searching the North’s arsenal to identify the type of possible strike on South Korean targets in order to be ready for any eventuality. Urban terrorism is not excluded.
Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin and other military commanders have vowed an instant counterattack on the origin of North Korean military actions in the event the North launches an attack like the sinking of the Cheonan or the bombing of Yeonpyeongdo in 2010. We trust that the military has taken all necessary measures to counter Northern hostilities of any scale, although there is no overt sign that the defense condition has been upgraded yet.
North Koreans have in recent years failed to make good their warnings of punitive or retaliatory strikes when the allied South Korean and U.S. forces held field and naval exercises or civilians flew psychological operations balloons to the North, losing some credibility. But they did sink the patrol craft and destroy the civilian village on Yeonpyeongdo in unprovoked attacks.
The armed forces should be on full alert, considering the fluidity of power structure in the North where anything is possible. Commanders will compete with each other to prove their loyalty and the new leader could scheme a military adventure in an attempt to secure the allegiance of soldiers. One piece of advice to our president is that it is of no use to point out the North’s political and economic weaknesses, which could drive them to act unpredictably to save face.
We are approaching a dangerous precipice in South and North Korea relations. The North says that it is preparing for “special actions” to take place. There should always be a degree of skepticism, but in lieu of their failed rocket launch and Kim Jong-un’s rise to power, most likely there will be yet another provocative and aggressive action. 
Yet, another aggressive action is not so insignificant this time. Many South Koreans who live in Seoul, not far from certain destruction if a war were to suddenly break out, seem to repress this thought in their daily preoccupied lives. However, I think the likelihood of a de facto devastating war is getting closer and closer every day. 
The border between the Koreas is the most heavily armed border in the world. If a leader decides to fire, then events would precipitate quite fast and there would be certain and sudden devastation. There is nothing that could subvert this possibility if a war broke out. The amount of losses would be incredible and about 60 years of building would be ruined. 
It would also bring instability to Asia on the whole. What if China intervenes? This has been pretty much an historical certainty. 
Thus, it is of great importance that an all-out war does not happen. Once guns start blazing, it is likely that Seoul will be on the table to be attacked by the North. Even though it is not something they may really want to destroy, but simply because it is here to be destroyed. The loss of life and horrors of war would yet again become a brute reality. Fortunately, this can be avoided.
Why is war eminent? The border is the most heavily armed in the world. There has been a shift in power in North Korea which is presently being tested. The North has already committed actions that would constitute a casus belli by any traditional definition. They have sunk a war ship (the Cheonan) and fired directly on South Korean land (on Yeonpyeong Island). The president and the leadership were criticized due to their response to each of these acts of war. Now, the president appears to be determined to respond in an effective way if any new developments of the same magnitude arise. (In any case, how could he not?) How could he get reelected if he didn’t act? It would seem cowardly. Protecting the sovereignty of South Korea and its citizenry is paramount. Another provocation by the North would set a dangerous precedent if it were not responded to in a proportional way. Of course, many might think that another conflagration that may abrupt would end in a brief reprisal but then die down as it has from past experiences with the North. However, it would seem this is not going to be the case. 
Like the triple entente before World War I, the North, like Germany, is feeling more and more isolated by the surrounding powers, and thereby, is progressively becoming more and more daring. (First, attacking a ship then attacking an island.) Also, like World War I, the reason for building up arms is for using them. This might seem a trivial thing to point out, but it is a fact. The North and South have built up a huge stockpile of arms. After sitting on and advancing arms for decades, the leadership of each country will be more and more inclined to use them. 
War was pretty much destined to break out for Germany due to isolation and the build-up of arms which the leadership sought to use. They pretty much invented the casus belli in order to use the arms they had been/were acquiring. For North Korea, and to some extent, South Korea to seek to use the arms they have acquired. 
Now the proverbial red button that lies before the leadership of both countries has never been bigger or brighter. However, once those buttons are pushed and a number of weapons are triggered, it will not seem like much of choice to go to war to the respective leaders anymore. The war would escalate and no one could in the immediate future undo what would be started. 
Thus, it is paramount that some of history is not repeated and this does not happen. It will take cautious planning and diplomatic maneuvering. I think it can be done as we have seen the Cold War between Russia and the United States was deflated before unleashing a massive stockpile of weaponry (although those countries were in very different circumstances, like distance for one.) But, as of right now, the situation is at a crossroads on the verge of sudden yet necessarily avoidable escalation. 
Thus, it must be stressed, for the leadership to be responsible. This involves not having an itchy trigger finger even with popular pressure because while defense should be strong and vigilant, it should be rationally determined for the better of South Korea and the world.

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