19 December 2010

A Method To North Korea's Madness

Last month, North Korean (DPRK) sent a barrage of missiles on Yeonpyeong, a disputed South Korean fishing island.  Now South Korea is going to conduct a one day live artillery drill.  North Korea has threatened retaliation and has deployed missile launchers on their west coast.

Russia was concerned enough about their own national security that they called for the United Nation’s Security Council to meet in emergency session regarding the escalation of hostilities on the Korean Peninsula.  The Peoples’ Republic of China is said to have prevented any condemnation of their ally North Korea.

Speculation arises as to why North Korea’s Dear Leader Kim il-Jong is provoking this situation.  It seemed like a facile method to legitimize Dear Leader’s chosen son, Kim Jong Un, as a military leader and making him heir apparent.  But the continued military escalation also points to geopolitical goals.

While Kim il Jong may not be inherently interested in a fishing island like Yeonpyeong, exploiting the crisis has the potential for gaining territory without conquering it.  North Korea is blustering that it will retaliate if South Korea conducts its artillary drill on Yeonpyeong. If South Korea concedes on self defense drills to not enflame the situation, it may create a legal precedent for North Korea to claim the disputed islands.

Years ago, the North Korean and South Korean governments agreed to respect a 12 mile maritime limit as their territorial rights.  The United Nations never gave its imprimatur to sovereignty of these channel islands.  General Mark Clark ordered the South Koreans to occupy these islands.  Yeonpyeong is 7 miles from the North Korean coast.  So if South Korea gives up military control, North Korea could rightly demand that the UN gives these islands back to the Hermit Kingdom as well as control over the sea lanes.

This may be a successful strategy seeing how China is keen on making mischief with their scrappy North Korean ally and the United States falls over itself to please Pyongyang during its periodic temper tantrums in exchange for agreements that North Korea never keeps.

The hitch to North Korea’s bullying bargaining strategy may be if shots are exchanged.  There are 20 American personnel on Yeonpyeong along with 9 members of the UN Command.  It is easier to ignore North Korean provocations if none of our troops are hurt.  But if shots are exchanged, it could escalate and get ugly quite quickly.  Seoul is within range of 10,000 DPRK rockets and the United States has a mutual defense pact with South Korea.

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