What just happened in Korea?
According to the BBC, earlier this morning the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong was the scene of one of the worst military clashes between the North and the South since the Korean war. According to initial reports, South Korean artillery positions retaliated after more than 50 shells fired by the North landed on Yeonpyeong over the span of one hour, killing 2 soldiers and injuring 20 (3 civilians were also injured). The North claims that military exercises carried out by the South earlier during the day had targeted North Korean marine territory. The South claims that the regular drills had stayed clear of the North. The Daily Dish summarizes initial reactions:
The larger difficulty with North Korea is that nothing seems to work, neither carrot nor stick. Over the course of the last decade or so the West has intermittently tried engagement with that strangest of states. But it seems to have produced no returns in terms of moderating the regime’s nuclear ambitions.
Earlier today North Korea conducted an artillery attack against the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong. We are in close and continuing contact with our Korean allies. The United States strongly condemns this attack and calls on North Korea to halt its belligerent action and to fully abide by the terms of the Armistice Agreement. The United States is firmly committed to the defense of our ally, the Republic of Korea, and to the maintenance of regional peace and stability.
The South Korean military was conducting drills near Yeonpyeong island when the North opened fire. But that does not explain today’s flare-up. More likely, the North Koreans are trying to set favourable ground for any talks that may begin (so they can extract concessions), while telling external and internal audiences that despite Kim Jong Ill having unveiled his youngest son Kim Jong Un as his heir apparent, succession will not weaken the North.
The West has relatively few levers to change North Korea’s behaviour – except to swear to protect South Korea (and Japan) in case of a full-scale war; or offer North Korea assistance. Neither are attractive options.
Image via The Learning Network Blog.