Sunday, November 28, 2010

What's with North Korea Pushing for War?

*******
Spiralling out of Control: The Risk of a New Korean War
By Gregory Elich
Global Research, December 4, 2010
An artillery duel between North and South Korean forces on November 23 has set in motion a series of events which threaten to spiral out of control.
On November 22, South Korea began its annual military exercise, involving including 70,000 troops, dozens of South Korean and U.S. warships and some 500 aircraft. The following day, South Korean artillery stationed on Yeonpyeong Island began a live ammunition drill, firing shells into the surrounding sea.
The island is situated quite near to the North Korean mainland, and lies in disputed waters. At the end of the Korean War in 1953, U.S. General Mark Clark unilaterally established the western sea border to North Korea's disadvantage. Rather than in a perpendicular line, the Northern Limit Line was drawn to curve sharply upwards, handing over islands and a prime fishing area to the South that would otherwise have gone to North Korea. The North, having had no say in the delineation of its sea border, has never recognized the Northern Limit Line.
South Korean troops have been based on the island since the end of the Korean War. There is also a small fishing village in close proximity to the military base; unavoidably so, given that the island is less than three square miles in size.
In response to the South Korean announcement of an impending artillery drill, North Korea telephoned the South Korean military on the morning of November 23, urging them to cancel plans to fire shells into what
the North regarded as its territorial waters. The North warned that if the drill proceeded, they would respond with a "resolute physical counter-strike."
Nevertheless, the artillery drill proceeded and four hours later, North Korean artillery fired on the island. In the first round, 150 shells were shot, of which 60 hit the island. Then 20 more shells were fired in a second round. In all, four people on the island were killed and 18 wounded.
The South Korean military telegraphed the North, asking them to cease, but to no avail. Then their artillery returned fire at the North, firing 80 shells. One shell directly hit a North Korean military barracks. Although many of
the shells appeared to have inflicted little damage, an official at the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff noted,
"Satellite images show our shells landed on a cluster of barracks in North Korea, so we presume there have been many casualties and considerable property damage." 
Facing a barrage of criticism from domestic hawks for having responded in too tepid a manner, South Korean Defense Minister Kim Tae-young resigned from his position. Yet the South Korean response probably could not have been increased significantly without risking a wider conflict.
During the drill, South Korean artillery on Yeonpyeong Island fired in a southward direction, away from the North Korean mainland, and this was not the first time that such drills had been conducted. North Korean forces could have made their point sufficiently by splashing some shells into the sea. Instead, they overreacted in a manner that manifested an inexcusable disregard for human life by targeting the island.
*******
*******
Why the North did so can best be explained by recent developments in relations between the two Koreas.
This was, after all, the first artillery duel between the two nations in forty years, so something led to it.
President Lee Myung-bak of the conservative Grand National Party took office in February 2008, vowing to reverse the Sunshine Policy of warming relations with North Korea. The government of Lee's predecessor, Roh Moo-hyun, had signed several agreements on economic cooperation with North Korea, including joint mining operations in the North. Lee killed every one these agreements, ensuring that they would never be implemented. The railroad leading from the South to the North, which had just been reconnected under former President Roh, is now closed for good. That project had promised to benefit both Koreas, providing the South with a cheaper and more convenient route for shipping goods to China and Russia, and giving the North added income through user fees. South Korean tourist operations at Mt. Kumgang in the North are closed. Reunions of family members separated by the border have stopped. The only remaining remnant of the Sunshine Policy is the presence of South Korean firms operating at an industrial park in Kaesong, North Korea, and its days are probably numbered.
Then there was the incident in which the South Korean corvette Cheonan was sunk, in May of this year.
In a stacked investigation, South Korea concluded that a North Korean submarine had targeted the vessel with a torpedo. The evidence, however, does not fully back that assertion and a Russian team's investigation determined that an accidental encounter with a sea mine was a more likely cause. North Korea's repeated requests to participate in an investigation, or to at least view the evidence, were consistently rebuffed. Instead the Lee Administration utilized the incident to further sour relations between the two Koreas.
Perhaps most significantly, when Roh Moo-hyun was president of South Korea, emergency communication channels were established between the two Koreas, specifically for the purpose of opening dialogue and limiting or preventing armed conflicts whenever they arose or threatened to do so. On a number of occasions, those communication channels stopped potential conflicts before they either occurred or escalated. Those channels no longer exist, thanks to Lee's dismantling of agreements with North Korea, and as a result four South Koreans and an unknown number of North Koreans are now dead.
That North Korea would feel threatened is not surprising. Its economy is crippled by the imposition of draconian Western sanctions, and the annual South Korean-U.S. military exercises are intended to intimidate. Furthermore, the rhetoric from Washington has been unremittingly hostile, and now with a more conservative government, so is South Korea's.
Nor is North Korea unaware of the fact that in February 2003, President Bush told Chinese President Jiang Zemin that if the nuclear issue could not be solved diplomatically, he would "have to consider a military strike against North Korea." One month later, Bush ordered a fleet into the region, including the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson. Six F-117 Stealth bombers were sent to South Korea, and nearly 50 fighters and bombers to Guam. The possibility of military action was on the table, Bush told a South Korean official.
Due to the efforts of China and South Korea's progressive president at the time, Bush chose dialogue, albeit
offset to a large degree by his imposition of further sanctions against North Korea. It has also certainly not gone unnoticed by North Korea that any halting diplomatic efforts have ceased altogether once President Obama took office. And with the pronounced deterioration in relations set in motion by President Lee Myung-bak, his administration has made it clear that he has no interest in diplomacy either.
Following the clash over Yeonpyeong, China called for dialogue and a reduction of tensions, sending envoys to both South and North Korea. It proposed that the six nations that had at one time participated in denuclearization talks, South and North Korea, the U.S., Japan, China and Russia, meet for emergency discussions "to exchange views on major issues of concern to the parties at present." The meetings would not be a resumption of talks on denuclearization, although China hoped that "they will create conditions for their resumption." Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei stated, "The starting point for China proposing emergency consultations is to ease the tensions on the Korean Peninsula and provide a platform of engagement and dialogue."
The Chinese proposal should have been welcomed as the only sensible approach to the problem. But officials of the Obama Administration condemned China for being "irresponsible" by putting forth such a proposal. Instead, they urged China to get on board with the program of pressuring North Korea and further escalating tensions and the risk of war. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs snottily dismissed the proposal by saying that the U.S. and other nations "are not interested in stabilizing the region through a series of P.R. activities."
South Korea, too, rejected China's proposal. The U.S., South Korea, and Japan willfully misrepresented China's proposal as merely being a call for a resumption of the six-party talks on denuclearization. Domestic audiences were not hearing that the proposal's purpose was to prevent further conflict. Instead, Japan said that talks would be "impossible" under the circumstances, while a South Korean official said that President Lee "made it clear that now is not the time for discussing" six-party talks. Indeed. Not when one's goal is to further inflame the situation. To further that objective, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is meeting with the foreign secretaries of South Korea and Japan to map out a common program in dealing with North Korea. It goes without saying that dialogue with North Korea will not be part of that program.
President Lee has promised to take a much harder line on North Korea, and already the South has sent
400,000 propaganda leaflets across the border on balloons. There has also been talk of resuming loudspeaker broadcasts across the border. The sending of leaflets was in violation of a 2004 agreement between the two sides to halt propaganda campaigns aimed at each other.
By the end of December, South Korea plans to hold another round of artillery drills on islands lying in disputed waters, including, dismayingly enough, Yeonpyeong Island. Nothing could be calculated to be more provoking under the circumstances. In preparation for the response to the drills that are expected from North Korea, island defenses are being beefed up. South Korea has added multiple rocket launchers, howitzers, missile systems and advanced precision-guided artillery to the Yeonpyeong arsenal.
According to a South Korean official, "We decided to stage the same kind of fire drill as the one we carried out on the island on November 23 to display our determination."
The new drills appear calculated to provoke a conflict, and this time South Korea is intent on an
asymmetrical response. The military is revising its rules of engagement so as to jettison concerns about starting a wider conflict. If former Defense Minister Kim Tae-young is to believed, if there is another North Korean strike, then warships and fighter jets of both South Korea and the U.S. will launch attacks on the North.
Incoming Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin is if anything even more determined to fan the flames of conflict into a wider conflagration. The South Korean military will immediately launch "psychological warfare," including, presumably, loudspeaker broadcasts across the border. The North has promised to target loudspeakers if they are put in operation, and that would in turn provide the pretext for the South Korean military to launch combat operations. If there is another exchange of fire with the North, Kim announced, "We will definitely air raid North Korea." All combat forces available would be
mobilized, he promised. The newly minted rules of engagement are also going to permit "preemptive" strikes on North Korea based on the presumption of a possible attack. In other words, if North Korea fails to provide a pretext for military action, the Lee Administration can attack the North without provocation, if it chooses to do so.
Lee Myung-bak has already achieved his dream of demolishing the Sunshine Policy. Relations between the two Koreas are at their lowest point since the end of military dictatorship in South Korea. Now he aims to deliberately trigger armed conflict in order to demonstrate "toughness," and not incidentally, drive the final nail into the coffin of the Sunshine Policy. Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin feels
that the risk of war is low. "It will be difficult for North Korea to conduct a full-scale war because there are some elements of insecurity in the country, such as the national economy and power transfer." Those may be arguments against North Korea's ability to successfully sustain a long-term war over the course of a year or two, but it seriously misreads the ability and will of the North Korean military to put up a determined fight. The extent of possible South Korean air strikes on the North is not clear, but anything other than an extremely limited and localized action is likely to trigger total war. And that is a war that the U.S. will inevitably be drawn into. Even presuming a quick defeat of the North (which would be unlikely), eighty percent of North Korea is mountainous, providing ideal terrain for North Korean forces to conduct guerrilla warfare. The U.S. could find itself involved in another failing military occupation. With both sides heavily armed, the consequences could be much worse for Koreans, and casualties could reach alarming totals. Four million Koreans died in the Korean War. Even one percent of that total in a new war would be unconscionable, and Lee Myung-bak is deluded if he believes he can ride the tiger of armed conflict and remain in control of the path it takes.
*******

*******
South Korea prepares emergency shelters
Associated Press, Updated: November 30, 2010
Seoul, South Korea: Last week's deadly attack on Yeonpyeong island has escalated military and diplomatic tensions on the Korean Peninsula, and for some in the South Korean capital, Seoul, there is an increasing fear of North Korean retaliation.
Hence, evacuation centres were being prepared in the city on Monday, amidst mounting tensions.
There are 3919 emergency shelters across Seoul - many are housed in subway stations or underground carparks.
According to local officials, evacuation shelters can be easily reached by everyone within five minutes and can accommodate more than 20 million people.
Each subway station has gas masks stored in glass cabinets and are called "nation masks".
SOS emergency telephones directly connect people to the emergency control room.
The maintenance area for subway stations have been fixed with machinery to provide clean air in case of an attack.
However the government is concerened about the fact that many Seoul residents are still unaware of emergency procedures or even the existence of shelters.
*******
*******
Analysis: US carrier visit a dilemma for China
By Christopher Bodeen, Associated Press
Fri Nov 26, 2010

BEIJING – This weekend's arrival of a U.S. aircraft carrier in the Yellow Sea poses a dilemma for Beijing: Should it protest angrily and aggravate ties with Washington, or quietly accept the presence of a key symbol of American military pre-eminence off Chinese shores?
The USS George Washington, accompanied by escort ships, is to take part in military drills with South Korea following North Korea's shelling of a South Korean island Tuesday that was one of the most serious confrontations since the Korean War a half-century ago.
It's a scenario China has sought to prevent. Only four months ago, Chinese officials and military officers shrilly warned Washington against sending a carrier into the Yellow Sea for an earlier set of exercises. Some said it would escalate tensions after the sinking of a South Korean navy ship blamed on North Korea. Others went further, calling the carrier deployment a threat to Chinese security.
Beijing believes its objections worked. Although Washington never said why, no aircraft carrier sailed into the strategic Yellow Sea, which laps at several Chinese provinces and the Korean peninsula.
This time around, with outrage high over the shelling, the U.S. raising pressure on China to rein in wayward ally North Korea, and a Chinese-American summit in the works, the warship is coming, and Beijing is muffling any criticisms.
"One of the results of North Korea's most recent belligerence has been to make it more difficult for China to
condemn U.S. naval deployments in the East China Sea," said Michael Richardson, a visiting research fellow at Singapore's Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. "I think China must be quietly cursing North Korea under their breath."
China's response has so far been limited to expressing mild concern over the exercises. A Foreign Ministry spokesman on Friday reiterated Beijing's long-standing insistence that foreign navies obtain its permission before undertaking military operations inside China's exclusive economic zone, which extends 230 miles (370 kilometers) from its coast.
It wasn't clear where the drills were being held or if they would cross into the Chinese zone.
The statement also reiterated calls for calm and restraint but did not directly mention the Yellow Sea or the planned exercises.
State media have been virtually silent. An editorial in the nationalistic tabloid Global Times worried that a U.S. carrier would upset the delicate balance in the Yellow Sea, ignoring the fact that the George Washington has taken part in drills in those waters numerous times before.
North Korea, by contrast, warned Friday that the U.S.-South Korean military drills were pushing the peninsula to the "brink of war."
A more passive approach this time helps Beijing raise its credibility with Washington and trading partner South Korea, and puts North Korea on notice that its actions are wearing China's patience thin.
"The Chinese government is trying to send Pyongyang a signal that if they continue to be so provocative, China will just leave the North Koreans to themselves," said Zhu Feng, director of Peking University's Center for International and Strategic Studies.
Sending signals is likely to be as far as Beijing goes, however. China fears that tougher action — say cutting the food and fuel assistance Beijing supplies — would destabilize the isolated North Korean dictatorship, possibly leading to its collapse. That could send floods of refugees into northeastern China and result in a pro-U.S. government taking over in the North.
"What China should do is make the North Koreans feel that they have got to stop messing around," Zhu said.
China may also be mindful of its relations with key trading partner Seoul, strained by Beijing's reluctance to condemn Pyongyang over the March ship sinking. Raising a clamor over upcoming drills in the wake of a national tragedy would only further alienate South Korea.
Beijing's mild tone also shows its reluctance to spoil the atmosphere ahead of renewed exchanges with
Washington. President Hu Jintao is scheduled to make a state visit to Washington in January hosted by President Barack Obama — replete with a state dinner and other formal trappings that President George W. Bush never gave the Chinese leader.
Before that Gen. Ma Xiaotian, one of the commanders who objected to the George Washington's deployment earlier this year, is due in Washington for defense consultations. Those talks are another step in restoring tattered defense ties, a key goal of the Obama administration.
Chinese fixations about aircraft carriers verge on the visceral. U.S. carriers often figure in Chinese media as a symbol of the American government's ability to project power around the world. The Chinese navy is building a carrier, and keeping U.S. ones out of China's waters is seen as rightful deference to its growing power.
The U.S. is worried about a key principle: the U.S. Navy's right to operate in international waters.
While China doesn't claim sovereignty over the entire Yellow Sea, it has become assertive about its maritime territorial claims and sensitive to U.S. Navy operations in surrounding waters. In the South China Sea, which China claims in its entirety, China has seized foreign fishing boats and harassed U.S. Navy surveillance ships.
In light of such trends, China's protests of the September drills virtually compelled the U.S. Navy to send the George Washington this time, said Alan Romberg of the Stimson Center think tank in Washington, who met with Chinese military commanders in the summer.
"The People's Liberation Army thinks it achieved an initial victory in keeping the U.S. from deploying the George Washington in that first exercise. That guarantees that the George Washington will go there at some point, probably sooner rather than later," Romberg said in an interview in September.
Even if China's reticence holds this time, Beijing is not likely to cede the U.S. Navy carte blanche to range throughout the Yellow Sea.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei has stated that China's stance on U.S. naval action in the Yellow Sea remains unchanged. The politically influential and increasingly vocal military is also likely to keep the pressure on the leadership to take a firm stand.
Any affront to Beijing's authority or intrusion into Chinese territorial waters would inflame the Chinese public and require a government response, said Fang Xiuyu, an analyst on Korean issues at Fudan University's Institute of International Studies in Shanghai.
"We hope that the U.S. can exert restraint and not cross that line," Fang said.
*******
North Korea fires artillery barrage on South
by Jung Ha-Won Jung Ha-won – Tue Nov 23, 2010
http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20101123/wl_afp/nkoreaskoreamilitarynuclearweapons_20101123092327
SEOUL (AFP) – North Korea fired dozens of artillery shells onto a South Korean island on Tuesday, killing one person, setting homes ablaze and triggering an exchange of fire as the South's military went on top alert.
In what appeared to be one of the most serious border incidents since the 1950-53 war, South Korean troops fired back with cannon, the government convened in an underground war room and "multiple" air force jets scrambled.
The firing came after North Korea's disclosure of an apparently operational uranium enrichment programme -- a second potential way of building a nuclear bomb -- which is causing serious alarm for the United States and its allies.
Some 50 shells landed on the South Korean border island of Yeonpyeong near the tense Yellow Sea border, damaging dozens of houses and sending plumes of thick smoke into the air, YTN television reported.
One South Korean marine -- part of a contingent based permanently on the frontline island -- was killed and 13 other marines were wounded, the military said. YTN said two civilians were also hurt.
"A Class-A military alert issued for battle situations was imposed immediately after shelling began," a military spokesman said.
[Right: Smoke billow from Yeonpyeong island near the border against North Korea, in South Korea, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2010. North Korea shot dozens of rounds of artillery onto the populated South Korean island near their disputed western border Tuesday, military officials said, setting buildings on fire and prompting South Korea to return fire and scramble fighter jets. (AP)]
Sporadic firing by each side continued for over an hour before dying out, the military said.
The shelling began at 2:34 pm (0534 GMT) after the North sent several messages protesting about South Korean naval, air force and army training exercises being staged close to the border, a presidential spokesman said.
"Flashes along with a thunderous sound were seen here and there across our villages and up to 10 houses were engulfed in flames," said Woo Soo-Woo, 62, a guesthouse owner on the island.
The shooting started bushfires at several places in the hills, he told AFP by phone after fleeing the island by ferry for the mainland port of Incheon.
"Frightened villagers rushed to nearby shelters while others were busy running away and crowded the port to escape," Woo said, adding about 1,500-1,700 civilians live on the island.
"When I walked out, the whole village was on fire," another villager was quoted by Yonhap news agency as saying. "I'm at the evacuation site with other villagers and I am scared to death."
Yeonpyeong lies just south of the border declared by United Nations forces after the war, but north of the sea border declared by Pyongyang.
The Yellow Sea border was the scene of deadly naval clashes in 1999, 2002 and last November.
Tensions have been acute since the sinking of a South Korean warship in March, which Seoul says was the result of a North Korean torpedo attack. Pyongyang has rejected the charge.
South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak convened an emergency meeting of ministers and top advisers in an underground war room, a presidential spokesman said. He urged the officials "to prevent further escalation".
The firing comes after Kim Jong-Un, the little-known youngest son of ailing North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, was officially recognised as his father's eventual successor.
"This is an intentional provocation to heighten cross-border tensions," Dongguk University professor Kim Yong-Hyun told AFP.
"The North made a series of gestures but there has been no response from South Korea and the United States. It is now using its brinkmanship aimed at forcing Seoul and Washington to take action and agree to dialogue."
Kim said the North would try to use the clash to promote solidarity among its people during the leadership succession.
"It is also sending a strong message to the United States and the international community that the peninsula urgently needs a peace regime."
A US special envoy headed to China Tuesday to seek its help in curbing North Korea's new nuclear project, revealed to US experts who described a sophisticated programme to enrich uranium.
Stephen Bosworth has also visited South Korea and Japan this week to discuss the disclosure, which US officials say would allow the isolated North to build new atomic bombs.
Bosworth, speaking in Tokyo, ruled out a resumption of stalled six-nation talks -- aimed at denuclearising the North in return for aid and other concessions -- while work continues on the enrichment drive.
China chairs the talks and is also the North's sole major ally and economic prop.
It appealed for the six-party talks to resume after the new revelations, and expressed concern over Tuesday's cross-border firing. Russia also warned against an escalation of tensions on the peninsula.
*******