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What, me worry?

OK, so as everyone knows, South Korea plans to hold live-fire artillery drills on Yeonpyeong-do sometime between today and Tuesday, depending on the weather.

Now, when I woke up this morning, the weather looked pretty good. So good, in fact, that looking at the window, I thought it was the perfect day for a live-fire artillery drill. I considered breaking the old howitzer out of storage, bringing it to the roof and firing a couple rounds towards Gangnam. It’s been a long week, though, so I just made a cup of coffee, flipped on the TV and watched a couple of episodes of season 2 of “The Mentalist.”

Clearly, the Ministry of Defense was thinking the same thing:

South Korea’s live-fire drill that was expected as early as this weekend off a front-line island will likely be moved back a day or two because of bad weather, a military source said Saturday, following North Korea’s warning of a fresh attack.
[...]
“Weather conditions are the most important factor in deciding the time for a drill. Early next week will be the most likely time to hold it because the weather should improve,” the source said.

So, I guess we’ll get at least another weekend before potential Armageddon. Which is nice, because like I said, I could really use a few days off.

Needless to say, all this talk of drills is making the North Koreans a bit cross:

North Korea vowed Friday to retaliate with greater firepower if South Korea goes ahead with its planned live-fire drills from the frontline island that has been devastated by North Korean shelling.

“Second and third self-defensive blows that cannot be predicted will be dealt” if South Korea conducts the one-day drills scheduled between Saturday and Tuesday, the North’s military said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

“The intensity and range of the firepower will create a situation more serious than one on Nov. 23″ when the North shelled the Yeonpyeong island in the Yellow Sea and killed two marines and two civilians, the North said.

That threat sounds a lot better in video: check it out, from the KCNA (via Yonhap). Feel the emotion!

Oh, and I guess it wouldn’t be North Korea without at least one threat of nuclear war:

Uriminzokkiri, the communist state’s official Web site, also said in a commentary that war on the Korean Peninsula is only a matter of time, stoking already high tensions after the North shelled a western South Korean island on Nov. 23 and killed four people.

“If war breaks out, it will lead to nuclear warfare and not be limited to the Korean Peninsula,” it said.

Thanks for the tip. Oh, and the North Koreans are also warning — through the Choson Shinbo — that if South Korea bombs them with aircraft, it could lead to a full-scale war. For those keeping score at home, North Korea has in just two days threatened unpredictable self-defensive strikes, full-scale war and transnational nuclear war. Now, this should concern me, as South Korea undoubtedly will bomb them if they launch another attack on Yeonpyeong-do, but I really doubt North Korea would open a full-scale war they’d lose. Badly.

Great photo from AP’s Ahn Young-joon, seen in the Christian Science Monitor:

“Tongil” means “unification” and “Myeolgong” means “eradicate the communists.” The message being, “Let’s unify Korea by eradicating the communists.” Didn’t know anyone other than veterans groups said that any more. I appreciate the sentiment, of course, but given that I don’t think anyone is seriously thinking about marching north, I’m not sure if it’s appropriate.

Also from that Christian Science Monitor piece:

With tensions on the Korean peninsula at a peak, the South’s persistence in conducting the drill is being seen as a show of force to the North, but also as needlessly provocative given the tense state of affairs.

“It is appalling. If it was a bona fide need for artillery practice they have plenty of islands in the Western Sea,” Leonid Petrov, a professor at the University of Sydney who specializes in Korea, told the Guardian. “This is simply sending a message that the South is putting pressure on the North – but at the same time refuses to negotiate.”

Hmmm. It’s certainly true that South Korea has many islands in the West Sea. The problem is, the Five West Sea Islands — front-line territory — are all north of North Korea’s declared maritime demarcation line, which means that if the South Koreans conduct live-fire drills on any of them, North Korea can (and will) raise the same complaints.

Speaking of Russia, they’re calling on South Korea to cancel the drills:

Russia called on South Korea Friday to abandon an impending military drill in the Yellow Sea, saying that an escalation in tensions with North Korea has to imperatively be avoided.

Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Alexey Borodavkin told South Korean and United States ambassadors that Russia is “deeply concerned” about the situation.

I hope the South Korean foreign ministry remembers this next time Moscow conducts drills on the Kurils like the ones they conducted in July, which involved slightly more than killing fish with a few self-propelled artillery pieces. Or maybe for shits and giggles, they could buzz a Russian naval drill with an F-15K.

One of many things that does concern me is the participation of Americans in this drill. From Yonhap:

The planned drill on Yeonpyeong will be observed by officials from the Military Armistice Commission of the U.S.-led United Nations Command (UNC) to ensure that it is carried out in accordance with the armistice agreement that ended the 1950-53 Korean War, Lee said.
[...]
Some 20 officers from the U.S. forces in South Korea will also take part in the planned drill by providing medical and communications support, Lee said. About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in the South, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War.

No doubt they’re there to assist the South Koreans in case things get heated, but I’m also sure their presence is intended to give the North Koreans just one more thing to think about before it does something stupid. One certainly hopes the North Koreans respect the Americans, but I’m not sure if they do — the North Koreans have shot down US aircraft, captured a US warship and killed US troops in and around the DMZ without suffering counter-attacks, so they might view us as they do the South Koreans. Granted, a lot has changed since the 60s and 70s, and I want to believe Pyongyang appreciates this, but I guess we’ll soon see.

PS: This is also a reminder of why we eventually want to transform our current security relationship with South Korea.

More on the Americans: a very interesting post over a Information Dissemination regarding the US response to North Korea (ht to jhpigott). First from Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff:

“What we worry about, obviously, is if that is misunderstood or if it’s taken advantage of as an opportunity,” Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday at the Pentagon. “If North Korea were to react to that in a negative way and fire back at those firing positions on the islands, that would start potentially a chain reaction of firing and counter-firing.”
[...]
“What you don’t want to have happen out of that is … for us to lose control of the escalation. That’s the concern,” Cartwright said about the military exercises.

Well, that certainly put me at ease.

Then this, by Vice Adm. Al Myers to the crew of the USS Carl Vinson:

Myers also encouraged the strike group Sailors to handle the gravity of their forthcoming mission.

“For the folks who are on their first deployment, they’re going to write history. Vinson is going to be in the news,” Myers said. “It’s important to understand the Navy does two fundamental things – one is we influence foreign countries, build and disrupt coalitions, and we maintain sea lanes of commerce. You’re going to influence a few foreign countries. By being present there, you’re going to be protecting our lanes of commerce. You can’t do that virtually, you have to be there, you have to be forward deployed. You prove every day what a strong team can do.”

I guess one can read too much into that.

I really don’t think the Korean War II is going to break out, mostly because I think North Korea fully understands it would lose any war it starts. Anyway, we’re all pretty used to colorful North Korea rhetoric. Still, you never want to say never when North Korea is concerned…

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  • Jieun K

    That threat sounds a lot better in video: check it out, from the KCNA (via Yonhap). Feel the emotion!

    ROTFL.

    Meanwhile, the Economist graphically predicts that NK will continue making the scene in 2011:

    http://media.economist.com/images/images-magazine/2010/12/18/WW/20101218_WWD000.jpg

  • seouldout

    Sure, it’s more hostile rhetoric than a typical hostile rhetoric day. Question is, does it compel NK to react if the ROK’s live fire exercise is conducted? Watch Pyongyang do something asymmetric that it can deny perpetrating.

    Oh, pity ’bout the weather. Think Karen Carpenter sang it best… “Walkin’ around. Some kind of lonely clown. Sunny days and weekends always get me down.”

  • virtual wonderer

    If there is one thing we can count on, that is incompetence of Kim Jong Il. He miscalculated when he shelled Yunpyungdo. He miscalculated, because the usual forgive, forget, and appease reaction he have seen so far from South Korea for the past 10 years have not ocurred, and instead South Korea has hardened and even the opposition is splitting on where they should stand on the issue. Lee Myung Bak is being forced to draw a line somwhere and Kim Jong Il is also being forced to escalate brinkmanship. One party needs to “blink” and I can’t imagine Kim Jong Il blinking. Kim Jong Il may simply assume, “suredly Lee Myung Bak will give me everything I want rather than go to war.” Who knows?

    If Lee Myung Bak was the type to blink though, he wouldn’t have so vociferously attacked the Sunshine Policy either.

    As for the need to do the drilling, I disagree whole heartedly with Leonid Petrov. When will it ever be a good time? It has always been this case. If ROK back out now, then we’ll know that Lee Myung Bak is preparing for appeasement of days past.

    I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Obama behind closed door is pressuring Lee Myung Bak to back down. It appears to me that the Marmot has changed his views on this from about 10 years ago I’ve seen him blogging here. I guess it was enough time for him to have a better understanding of the situation there.

  • jhpigott

    RH – What is to be made of the fact that this spate of DPRK threats of retaliation in the event of ROK live arty drilling from Yeonpyeong Island did not just come in the form of KNCA propoganda? It appears the DPRK made similiar threats of retaliation over the SK/NK dedicated “military hotline”.

    “The South Korean puppet warmongers must immediately cancel the provocative coastal live-fire drills planned on Yeonpyeong,” the unnamed head of the North’s colonel-level military delegation said.

    The KCNA said the warning was delivered to the South’s defense ministry at around noon on Friday, calling the sea surrounding the small island part of “our sacred territorial waters.”
    http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr/news/2010/12/17/0200000000AEN20101217006200315.HTML

    I have also heard from a friend in the area that the North made a 2nd call over the military hotline later in the day around 0500 and basically repeated its warning. It’s easy to be dismissive of the North’s rhetoric, after all, hardly a day goes buy where they don’t threaten the South with nuclear annilihation. However, I am under the impression from talking with a few people familiar with the North that they don’t abuse the “hotline” and usually mean what they say when communicating through official military channels. In fact, a similar warning was apparently conveyed from the North to the South via the “hotline” just hours before the Nov 23rd attack.

  • Granfalloon

    I hope South Korea sticks to their guns, no pun intended. Backing down at this point is tantamount to allowing the DPRK to schedule when and where the South can conduct military drills. It’s important to make it clear to North that provocations and truculent rhetoric mean MORE drills, not fewer.

    Besides, conventional wisdom says that the South has more to lose in a war, but this isn’t actually true. South Korea goes into war knowing it will retain it’s sovereignty and it’s government. North Korea wouldn’t, and they know it.

  • Hamilton

    North Korea has used the same tactics to end ROK-US yearly exercises. Several past Key Resolve exercises were secretly covers for “THE INVASION OF THE DPRK” which the north threatened immediate retaliation if it went ahead…..and it went ahead. Strangely these exercises are announced ahead of time every year and none of them has resulted in an invasion of the north.

    The truth is north Korea is the boy who cried wolf far too often. We actually cancelled the Team Spirit execises decades ago due to nork threats of war but that coincided with booming costs and better computer driven exercises. Did nK ratchet down activities and rhetoric after TS was cancelled…ahem…heck no. It only encouraged them.

    Threats cost nK nothing. They cost the ROK and the US a lot if we listen to them when we are doing nothing morally or legally wrong. Maintaining combat readiness is an important part of deterence which north Korea seeks to end with hot air. If they do attack, it has nothing to do with the exercises and everything to do with KJI.

  • seouldout

    “Tongil” means “unification” and “Myeolgong” means “eradicate the communists.” The message being, “Let’s unify Korea by eradicating the communists.” Didn’t know anyone other than veterans groups said that any more. I appreciate the sentiment, of course, but given that I don’t think anyone is seriously thinking about marching north, I’m not sure if it’s appropriate.”

    Agreed. The colour yellow also reduces combat effectiveness… unless they’re in a field of wild flowers with the honeymooners on Jeju. They have oversell and under deliver bandanas?

  • CactusMcHarris

    The Vinson was my only at-sea deployment – 4 traps and 3 cats made for an astounding week.

    I really hope the ROK carries out its drills – it’s time for North Korea to be stood up to.

  • gbevers

    If I were in South Korea, I would be worried. A ship sinking and then an artillery attack. Why? Even for North Korea, that is unusual.

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