Rising tensions in Yellow Sea

Friday, March 8, 2013
By Paul Martin

March 8, 2013

The North Korean military said that it would also cut-off direct phone links with the South Korea at the inter-Korean border village of Panmunjom. The North on 6 March 2013 has announced no-fly and no-sail zones off both the coasts. Whereas the South has threatened that it would target Pyongyang leadership directly should it attack the South. On 7 March 2013 North Korea threatened to launch a preemptive strike against the US. South Korean defense ministry said that it has concrete evidence that the North is conducting a series of military drills in preparation for a nationwide war rehearsal. Meanwhile, the US and the South Korea have decided to go-ahead with their planned military exercise.

On March 7, 2013, the UNSC passed UN draft resolution 2094 putting into force stricter sanctions against the North Korea for its unacceptable nuclear program and for threatening the South Korea and the US. There were 15 votes in favor of resolution with no vote against it. The US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, told the media after the sanctions were imposed on the North Korea, that the sanctions would slow down North Korea’s illicit ballistic and nuclear program and raise the cost to source and finance its strategic program further constraining its ability to buy material, technology and design for the program.

The war-mongering in nothing new in the Korean Peninsula but this time the North has been talking about direct and specific military actions against the South and the US. To be frank the North does not have requisite strength to attack the South unless and until it risks grave consequences because of its actions. There could be two completely different interpretations of the recent events in the Yellow Sea.

The first one is that the North has lost belief in its tested policy of tongmibongnam—tactic of dividing the allies by befriending the US and antagonizing the South Korea. In all likelihood the North understands that it has no indigenous reply to the South’s progress and it believes that military capabilities, particularly its nuclear capacities, are a hedge against the eruptions of revolutions in its land like taking place in the Arab world and various protest movements in different parts of the world. The most important point is that the North Korean elites do not want to loose their grip on the people and resources. In fact, they want to increase their hold on to the power.

The second one is the other pole—the North wants to segment with the US and that many of its military and bureaucratic elites have started believing that American way of life is far better than theirs. There is increasing interaction between the US business leaders and Pyongyang. The North wants to live in peace with its neighbor, but without unification. It also wants to normalize relationship with the US. The fact is that North Korea would have limited reserves of Uranium and their reactors would also have limited capacity in enriching the radioactive material into weapon grade Uranium. Why is it loosing bombs by detonating it?

The fact is that the North Korea can not even dream about attacking the US as it would be almost annihilated. Nobody would take its hollow threat. But most probably it did not give. By threatening to launch a preemptive strike against the US it is probably telling Western political and military leaders that it wants peace but in its own way. It may also want to renegotiate agreements with the South Korea and with the US. The feisty, aggressive and nationalistic response of the South Korea may appear irresponsible but it also strengthens segmentation-interpretation of the recent events in its neighborhood. In all likelihood, second unconventional but speculative interpretation appears more plausible.

But one thing is certain that the present hysteria by the North against the South Korea and the US and its threat of using nuclear weapons against the US would increase demands for anti-ballistic missile defense systems by the South Korea, Japan and Taiwan and would give boost to the George W Bush’s national missile defense (NMD) program. Mr. Obama may give full support to NMD program. Moreover, if there is a real tension between Pyongyang and Washington, then it would rescale the world one day.

All societies have their threshold levels to change and update with time. Consciousness of all societies is not at the same value. Therefore, the change will take place as per the local scale. But North Korea will change. So will China because both are fair and largely slim homogeneous people though both may not change to cheer up and embrace democracies as democracy and capitalism are not universal theories. But the wishes to live decently and respectfully and consume more are definitely the ones. If not at this moment of time, then they will become one day. Nobody would like to die because of ideology.

The South should not fear from the North as it attacking the South could bring cataclysmic regime change in the North because of certain military action by the US. The policies of Seoul are correct. It needs to continue to follow them and unless attacked, should always offer sops including economic help and offer to invest in the North. It is the Pyongyang which should fear Seoul.

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