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November 23, 2010
North Korea shells South Korean island
As an apparent dynastic transition looms, the impenetrable North Korean regime is acting up, and has killed at least two South Korean marines and injuring 17 (including civilians) on Yeonpyeong Island, near the United Nations-drawn maritime border between the two nations. Earlier, South Korea had carried out military maneuvers that included firing shells into the Yellow Sea in waters claimed by South Korea (away from the coast it is claimed), and the North Korean bombardment of the island with dozens of shells was done in retaliation.
The incident follows the North claiming over the weekend that it has a new uranium enrichment facility which could produce fissile material for nuclear weapons, and the earlier sinking of a South Korean warship. The North denied responsibility, but the South claims a North Korean torpedo sank the craft, killing 46 sailors.
South Korea is threatening serious retaliation, including striking North Korea's missile base near the installation from which the shelling was launched. Earlier reports that South Korea had requested deployment of US tactical nukes to South Korea have been denied.
Clearly, there is some danger of the conflict escalating, possibly spiraling out of control. However, the North Korean regime remains critically dependent on China for trade and other support, and presumably the Chinese have no interest in a possible nuclear conflict on their border, and are downright phobic over the possibility of Japan arming itself with nuclear weapons, as it clearly could do rapidly should its security be threatened by war.
With Kim Jong il ailing, and his young son Kim Jong Un tapped as his successor, the likely explanation is that this escalation of tensions is intended to solidify Baby Kim's support from the military. Nobody really knows the dimensions of the internal power struggles within North Korea, but the military is the critical group whose support must undergird the political leadership, and the careerists there may well resent the picking of an inexperienced heir as their next ultimate leader. Some may have ties to Kim family rivals for power.
North Korea is the worst regime in the world, starving its people, spreading nuclear weapons, and intimidating its neighbors. Unfortunately, there is no will overseas top topple the evil Kims from power, out of fear of the burden of supporting 20 million half starved and heavily indoctrinated North Koreans.
Steve McCann adds:
It was inevitable. With the United States de facto foreign policy of apology and appeasement as well as deference to China, it was only a matter of time before North Korea would re-emerge seeking attention and concessions.
The news that North Korea has launched an artillery barrage against a South Korean island and its move to put its nuclear capability back on the world stage was part of a deliberate effort to escalate tensions in the region.
Last week the exposure of a hitherto unknown uranium enrichment facility built in less than 18 months was the opening salvo in getting the never-ending North Korean nuclear issue on the front pages.
These actions also coincide with the announcement of Kim Jong-il's third son and designated heir apparent Kim Jon-eun as the future dictator of North Korea and is an effort to boost his standing as well as force the United States and its allies back to the feckless six-party talks, stalled since 2008.
America faces a huge dilemma over how to respond, and especially over how to deal with China, which in recent months has drawn closer to its neighbor, praising North Korea on the 60th anniversary of the Korean War as a great and just war waged to resist aggression. China also refused to accept North Korean culpability for the fatal sinking of a South Korean warship last March.
The United States, now more beholden to China financially than ever, can only hope that China will step in and change North Korea's behavior. Threat of military action is hollow with the current Administration in power in Washington and calls for further sanctions are futile as existing sanctions patently have not worked.
The next few days maybe tense. More violence is possible. But matters will not escalate into open warfare as all sides will agree to return to the table. The United States has no good options; it will have to talk, albeit with egg on its face and through gritted teeth. However, with the expanded nuclear capability of the North, the stakes are higher than ever before. North Korea will expect the Obama administration to cave into its demands and in all likelihood they will.