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Tag: Yeonpyeong-do

Late Pres. Roh ‘anti-American, crazy’: Bob Gates

In his recently published memorir, former SecDef Bob Gates paints an unflattering picture of late Korea President Roh Moo-hyun:

Gates recalls a November 2007 meeting in Seoul with the liberal-minded president, whose diplomatic and security policy is still being debated.

He calls Roh “anti-American and probably a little crazy.” Roh was quoted as telling Gates that “the biggest security threats in Asia were the United States and Japan.”

I must confess it’s nice to see Roh was telling both the Americans and North Koreans the same thing. Important to stay on message, you know.

Unsurprisingly, Gates liked working with Lee Myung-bak, more.

You’ll recall Roh’s attitudes led him to get pwned by Gate’s predecessor.

Anyway, perhaps more interesting was Gates’s claim that President Lee and Company really wanted to lay the smack down on North Korea following the 2011 shelling of Yeonpyeong-do, but the United States leaned on Seoul to limit its retaliation:

“South Korea’s original plans for retaliation were, we thought, disproportionately aggressive, involving both aircraft and artillery,” Gates wrote in his memoir.

“We were worried the exchanges could escalate dangerously,” he added.

Over the next few days, Gates said he, US President Barack Obama and then secretary of state Hillary Clinton had numerous telephone calls with their South Korean counterparts in an effort to calm things down.

“Ultimately, South Korea simply returned artillery fire on the location of the North Koreans’ batteries that had started the whole affair,” he said.

The Korean government is declining to comment on this, but they probably don’t need to. After all, this isn’t the first time a former US official has made such a claim.

Because even a Marine needs a hug sometimes…

Park Geun-hye visiting the ROK Marines on Yeonpyeong-do on Nov 20.

S. Korea was ‘considering retaliation well beyond a local response’

In his recently released book, Jeffrey Bader—former senior director for East Asian affairs at the White House’s National Security Council—said South Korea was considering some heavy retaliation against the North after the shelling of Yeonpyeong-do, reports Ye Olde Chosun and the Korea Times.

From Ye Olde Chosun:

Jeffrey Bader, the ex-senior director for East Asian affairs at the White House’s National Security Council, writes in his book “Obama and China’s Rise” due out later this month that South Korea was “considering retaliation well beyond a local response” if the North launched another provocation during artillery drills after the Yeongpyeong incident.

He says tensions mounted after the South Korean military announced it would hold the artillery drills in waters off Yeonpyeong Island after the North Korean attack. From the U.S. standpoint, there were concerns that the situation could escalate beyond control if it did not explain clearly to Seoul which types of support it could offer and which were not possible, he adds.

Does bolster some of my suspicion that LMB’s failure to do “jack shit to avenge the spirits of those who died in the two attacks by North Korea” was in part due to American pressure.

N. Korea uses ‘Lee Myung-bak’ as target in drills

In a rather un-North Korean-like move, Pyongyang invited the foreign press to watch some of North Korea’s drills around the West Sea.

What got noticed here was the use of the names “Lee Myung-bak” and “Kim Gwan-jin” as targets. The poor defense minister, in fact, appears to have had an axe thrown at him.

Speaking of those drills, it appears the North Korean commander who led 2010’s shelling of Yeonpyeong-do has been replaced by People’s Armed Forces vice minister Pyon In-son, who had this to say:

“The hearts of my corps’ soldiers are boiling with hatred for the Lee Myung-bak group of traitors and are determination to get revenge,” Pyon was quoted as saying on air. “Be it Cheong Wa Dae or Incheon, we will immerse them all in a sea of fire and not let a single member of the group of traitors survive.”

Interesting that he should specifically mention Incheon. That makes me nervous, actually. Doubly so considering that with the Nuclear Security Summit set to open in Seoul at the end of this month, it wouldn’t be unlike North Korea to mark the occassion by trying to embarass the Lee Myung-bak administration. Allow me to think out loud, too, and speculate that with the recent announcement of the nuke and missile deal with the Americans, North Korea might believe they could get away with a provocation against the South, calculating that the White House will pressure Lee not to retaliate for fear of scuttling the deal, especially with the elections coming up.

N. Korea conducting drills to occupy Five West Sea Islands

Citing Radio Free Asia, the Chosun Ilbo is reporting that North Korean special forces have been conducting since mid-December large-scale drills to attack South Korea’s five West Sea islands, including Yeonpyeong-do.

A Chinese source familiar with the North told RFA that the drills were taking place in the waters off Nampo. For those with an interest in these sort of things, the source also revealed some of the North’s operational plans, which he apparently heard from a North Korean military official during a visit to Pyongyang. On a moonless night, coastal artillery from the KPA’s Fourth Corps would open up on the Five Islands, after which special force operators would take inflatable rafts to the islands and occupy them.

The source said North Korea believes that since the islands are far from the South Korean mainland, it would difficult for the South to send immediate reinforcements, and that the South would not be able to launch a counter-attack even if the islands were occupied since the North has nuclear weapons. The source also said the North is drawing up detailed plans to occupy the islands permanently, at least partially based on the premise that US—ROK forces would find it difficult to launch counterattacks if the North took the Five Islands’ civilians hostage. Lovely.

As you can imagine, Ye Olde Chosun has been getting its North Korea on in recent weeks. I haven’t done the numbers, but I’ve been seeing a lot of stories from RFA and Open Radio for North Korea. I guess what I’m trying to say is I’d take what I read with a grain of salt.

Oh, and also in North Korean military news, the KPA is reportedly sporting new threads:

Some North Korean troops stationed along the border have donned a camouflage uniform similar to that worn by South Koreans, apparently to practise intrusion drills, a defence ministry official said Tuesday.

The move prompted the South to advance the supply of new uniforms for its own troops to avoid confusion, the official told journalists in a background briefing.

“It’s been confirmed some North Korean frontline troops are wearing uniforms with woodland camouflage pattern which is similar to those of South Korean uniforms,” the official said.

“Our judgment is that the North’s special forces stationed there are staging intrusion drills wearing the uniforms.”

The South’s military has begun supplying new “digital camouflage” uniforms and is considering speeding up the distribution following the North’s move.

Kim Dae-joong, Hong Seong-gul shoot down Selig Harrison

So, Selig Harrison writes into the New York Times, suggesting that — surprise! — the UNITED STATES redraw the NLL in the West Sea.

Needless to say, this didn’t go down well with Chosun Ilbo columnist Kim Dae-joong, who suggested that Harrison “in effect acts as a window for the North in Washington,” and that “these ideas sound as if the North used the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island to set the stage for demanding a change in the status of the Northern Limit Line and the islands around it.”

Better still, in the Korea Times, Hong Seong-gul pens a rather long refutation of Harrison’s argument: it’s good fun to read.

(HT to read)

More commentary on North Korea

One cannot read this piece in Foreign Policy by Edward Luttwak without smiling (HT to miltonaaronm):

Fortunately, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and his ministers and military advisors knew better than to listen to the U.N. Security Council, Jimmy Carter, the likes of Namkung, or indeed North Korean threats. They had finally realized that when it came to deterrence, they had a lot of catching up to do.

Yes! Yes! Yes!

By Dec. 20, however, all illusions spent, and with the firm support of an unflinching Obama administration, the South Koreans finally did the right thing. And they did it well: Along with realistic civil-defense plans, the evacuation of the most exposed civilians, and preparations for vigorous counterbattery fire to hit Northern guns if they shelled Yeonpyeong again, the South let it be known that if the North Koreans opened fire anywhere else, in places where it lacked enough artillery to respond in kind, it would resort to airstrikes.

He ends well, too:

One day, no doubt the North Korean regime will pass into history. But until then, the South Koreans must finally disenthrall themselves from the illusion that other countries will ensure their day-to-day security from attack — it will not be done by the United States, let alone the United Nations, and certainly not by China.

He certainly gives us a lot of cheering material. The line about the anti-American South Korean left (“American G.I. trysts with their grandmothers are still bitterly resented”) was cute, too, if perhaps a tad insensitive given that said trysts sometimes came in the form of rape.

I do wonder, however, just how well “deterrence” has been reestablished. Not to put too fine a point on it, but deterrence only works if the other side actually cares about losing stuff. That Kim Jong-il and Co. care about their own survival is clear, but do they care about the man in the trench? As Andrei Lankov wrote in Foreign Policy:

The lives of the common soldiers and sailors are of no political significance there. The tiny North Korean elite has demonstrated that it is ready to sacrifice as many of the common people as necessary to stay in control (during the famine of the late 1990s, as many as 1 million people perished, with no discernable political repercussions for the government). The death of a few hundred soldiers will be seen as a sorry but fully acceptable price — and will not even deter Pyongyang from planning a new round of provocations.

Some argue that such a military disaster would damage the regime, which has staked its reputation on Kim Jong Il’s “military first” doctrine. But Kim’s regime controls the media so completely that even the most humiliating defeat would be presented as a great victory, a spectacular triumph of North Korean arms. Only a handful of generals will know the truth, and these generals understand that they would have no future without the current regime, so they are unlikely to protest.

I guess the question deterrence-wise is, how many North Korean troops, artillery tubes, rocket launchers, etc. would need to be killed/destroyed to outweigh the benefits Pyongyang gains from launching provocations against the South (namely, international media attention, potential negotiations and the rewards that come with them, a manufactured crisis for domestic political use and the political bickering in South Korea that usually follows North Korean provocations)? Would South Korean air strikes on North Korean artillery position be worth it, if they were accompanied by opposition condemnation of Lee Myung-bak’s North Korea policy in the South Korean parliament?

In the other universe, we have a piece in JapanFocus by Tim Beal, Senior Lecturer at Victoria University of Wellington and author of “North Korea: The Struggle Against American Power,” on “Korean Brinkmanship, American Provocation, and the Road to War: the manufacturing of a crisis” (HT to reader). And by “manufacturing,” Beal means manufactured by South Korea:

What is most striking in the above reports is a failure to attempt to analyse the context in which the event is embedded. This context has two aspects, the contemporary geopolitical environment, and the historical framework. Once you take an event out of its context, events and the actors that perform them can have their meaning and significance distorted, often to the point of inversion. Prey become predators, victims become villains, and war becomes peace.

In this case, the provoker is portrayed as the provoked and the origins of the crisis are obscured.

The fire fight at Yeonpyeong Island seems to have been a manufactured crisis. It appears that, for the first time, South Korea, alone or in tandem with the United States, carried out a military exercise part of which took place in territory claimed by the North. There have been innumerable ROK and US-ROK military exercises over the decades, some of them very large, involving up to 200,000 troops. These have taken place either in international waters, or in South Korean territory. The North has charged the South, and the US, numerous times with infringing its territory by plane or by ship, and the area between the West Sea boundaries is contested, as discussed below. However, the live fire exercise of the marine’s howitzers on Yeonpyeong Island on 23 November, coinciding with the massive South Korean Hoguk exercise, seems to have been unprecedented. It appears that the North considered it a step too far and warned the South a number of times that they would retaliate. The warnings were ignored and the North shelled the marine base.

I’ll let you read that one on your own and ponder.

S. Korea to conduct drill today, 11am to noon

UPDATE: The drill has been pushed back to 1pm or later.

ORIGINAL POST: Well, children, wait no longer — the Joint Chiefs has reportedly decided to conduct its live-fire drill on Yeonpyeong-do today at 11am to noon.

Well, here’s to hoping nothing bad happens.

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…

So much for all that damage you did to the North Koreans…

You’ll recall that the Ministry of Defense said it believed South Korea’s counterfire caused significant damage to the North Korean forces firing on Yeonpyeong-do.

Well, I guess not.

A GNP lawmaker brought those photos into the National Assembly today, explaining that of the 80 rounds fired by the South Koreans, 35 fell into the water, 45 hit land, but 14 of those landed in fields.

Needless to say, this is leading some to wonder if the military might have exaggerated the effectiveness of its counterfire.

Unhappiness with lax/weak response to N. Korean shelling

According to the Seoul Sinmun, lots of lawmakers — conservatives, in particular — are unhappy with the way the South Korean military has responded (or, more to the point, not really responded) to North Korea’s shelling of the island of Yonpyeong-do on Tuesday.

To sum up some of the complaints thrown Defense Minister Kim Tae-young’s way during an emergency meeting with the National Assembly yesterday:

  • Most lawmakers thought 13 minutes — how long it took for South Korean guns to return fire — was took long a wait. Kim responded by noting that the gun crews needed to 1) take cover, and 2) while in cover, swing the guns, which had been pointed south for the drills earlier in the day, northward. He explained only a well-trained gun crew could do this in 13 minutes, and as blogged yesterday, he also cracked that real war isn’t like StarCraft.
  • Two GNP lawmakers wondered why South Korean warplanes (including F-15s), which were in the air, did not bomb the North Korean artillery base at Gaemoeri after the second North Korean barrage began. Kim said they thought about it, but decided against it for fear of escalating the situation. He said, however, that if it is judged that they should have let the aircraft attack, they will talk with UN command to change the rules of engagement.
  • A Democratic Party lawmaker said the military should have been watching closer before the battle: North Korea’s artillery gun ports were open, MiGs were on stand-by and North Korean warships were on the seas. Kim said, however, that this was normal for North Korea, and they were thoroughly prepared for it in any case. Another Democratic Party lawmaker asked if the warning message sent by North Korea prior to South Korea’s firing drill was different from normal, to which Kim responded, essentially, that North Korea sends the same kind of message every time South Korea holds an exercise.
  • A GNP lawmaker noted that North Korea fired off 150 roudns in the first attack, and 20 in the second, while the South responded by firing 50 and 30 rounds, respectively. He said this ran counter to the South’s rules of engagement, which call for twice as many rounds to be fired in return. Kim responded that of the 150 shells fired by North Korea in the first attack, about 90 fell in the water, while 60 hit the island and the South Korean base on it. The Marines were only able to confirm the shells that hit their base, to which they responded two-fold, only to find later that shells had fallen elsewhere on the island.
  • A Democratic Party lawmaker said there was controversy regarding where the South Korean shells fired during its earlier drill were falling. He also noted that the Ministry of Defense explained at the time of the attack that the attack was due to the Hoguk Exercise. He asked if there was no possibility that the shells’ landing point was on the other side of the operational control line as the North delineates it. Kim said the North’s line runs through a South Korean fishing zone, and since it’s a pain to hold firing exercises in a fishing zone, the guns fire instead in a southwestern direction. He also noted that the Hoguk Exercise, a joint drill with the Army, Navy and Air Force, was being conducted south of the Taean Peninsula at the same time, and that the Yeonpyeong-do drill was a regular monthly drill held separately. He also said the earlier ministry report was a general one that included the North Korean warning message taking issue with the Hoguk Drill.
  • Lawmakers wondered why the DefCon level wasn’t dropped, despite the attack on South Korean territory. Instead, only the “Jindo Dog” level — used for localized provocations — was dropped. Kim explained that the DefCon is dropped when additional military forces are being mobilized, but this did not happen. Instead, the WatchCon was dropped from 3 to 2 to strengthen the state of alert.
  • A Liberty Forward Party lawmaker asked whether Yeonpyeong-do needed a bigger military presence, something comparable to that on the island of Baengnyeong-do. Kim said the armored vehicles on Yeonpyeong-do were deployed with the threat of a North Korean amphibious assault in mind, but now the threat is in the form of artillery. He said they would consider a plan to boost the number of K-9 guns from six to 12, and would switch some of the island’s 105mm howitzers for longer-range self-propelled 150mm guns.

Perhaps that last complain bears repeating: according to SBS, North Korea has about 50 guns deployed at its bases in Gaemeori and Mudo, the bases that conducted Tuesday’s attack. Korea responded with just six K-9 self-propelled artillery pieces, two of which broke down and had to be repaired before they could fire. The K-9 is a superior gun, but the numbers still present a problem.

Also worth noting:

  • Some think the Ministry of Defense is exaggerating how much damage it did to the North Koreans with its counterfire, according to the Kukmin Ilbo. Firstly, assuming it was a planned provocation, it’s unlike North Korean soldiers were anywhere near their barracks or nearby facilities, which South Korean gun crews concentrated their fire on. Secondly, North Korea puts its coastal artillery guns deep in caves.
  • On the “Jaw, Jaw, Jaw” front, the Kyunghyang Shinmun notes that President Lee is raising the level of his rhetoric as conservative voters express increasing disappointment with his response to North Korean provocations.

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