Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Don't be so quick to blame North Korea: war drums along the NLL

Today, 23 November 2010, on the 47 anniversary of JFK's assassination, North and South Korea exchanged fire near Yeonopyeong island, close to the NLL [Northern Line Limit], on the fringe of the North's territorial waters. Three South Korean marines were killed, six others seriously injured, and some 13 islanders wounded and two dead. And fire claimed some houses. Immediately, the civilian population went into hidding.
And from an underground bunker, South Korea's president Lee Myung bek threatened a barrage of missiles should North Korea lob shells again against the South's navy.
It looked as though the field were cleared for a resumption of the frozen Korean War. Panic seized the world bourses; they plummeted.
Seizing on the moment, Mr. Lee looked for ways to disadvantage his nemesis Kim Jong il. He appealed to third party countries to soundly condemn North Korea's adventurism. And many probably will. China called for calm. Russia expressed troubled concern. The US although looking to put the damper on war fever, pushed for more sanctions and putting another leper's bell of exclusion from the world community, around Kim Jong il's neck. Japan trembled and feared the worse.
Tempers were running high. The US media, marching in lock step with the Obama administration, gave no quarter on the matter.Outside the US, the media took a more nuanced tone.
GuamDiary prefers to review the facts it knows and as they unfold hour by hour. Let's begin with the NLL, a disputed sea boundary drawn at the time of the Korean War [1950-1953], which the North never recognised since it left islands - like Seonpyeong - within South Korea's territory and within a few kilometres from its own territorial waters.
Seonpyeong houses not only a small population which makes a living from the sea, but more importantly it is home to a South Korean military installation, one of whose functions is to closely monitor North Korea.
GuamDiary thinks that it is too early to assert that North Korea is to blame for today's exchange of gunfire.
South Korea admitted that it was conducting yet another series of military exercises in the area. And what's more, its navy, ably assisted by the US, was using live fire. Seoul denies that this live fire was directed towards North Korea. But we only have its word for it. Assuming that that might be the case, live fire by the South in close proximity to North Korean waters,bodes ill and unwelcome intentions, the more especially since the Lee Myung bek government, since its installation in the Blue House, has vigorously pursued a no holds bared policy towards the North beginning with the scrapping of Kim Dae Jung's 'Sunshine Policy'. Since 2008, a relative detente with Pyongyong has been replaced by an ever increasing hard line policy. Not only that, Mr. Lee scrapped an accord signed by his predecessor Roh Moo hyun and Kim Jong il, to turn the NLL into a non military zone and peacefully resolve any differences.
The tensions between both sides took on an increasing menacing tone since the sinking of the South's corvette, the 'Cheonan' in March 2010, resulting in the loss of 46 crew. GuamdDiary has very much commented on this incident and raised doubts as to the culpability of North Korea in this act and showed the missing links of logic in the South's and US' brief against the North. [Readers are encouraged to read our postings on the matter.]
South Korea and the US began a war of propaganda to brand the North the aggressor of the sunken 'Cheonan'. They waged their war on four fronts: political, economic, an organised and selective use of [dis]information, and military. The crowning glory of their efforts was to have the UN Security Council not only condemn North Korea for the torpedoing of the 'Cheonan', but also to strange it economically through sanctions and diplomatic isolation.
The reasoning of this tack is not difficult to measure: for Washington and Seoul, the North is a failed state; its leader Kim Jong il is reportedly seriously ill; its people on the edge of starvation. By pursuing a Cold War against the North, they reasoned, it would bring down the much hated and dreaded Kim dynasty.
South Korea and the US miscalculated. They failed to persuade the Security Council;for China and Russia refused to follow their lead.
So, with the political and diplomatic fronts quieted,propaganda efforts floundered, owing to the stubborn facts that the 'Cheonan' officers were drunk at the time of the incident and that the corvette may have dredged up a torpedo lying dormant possibly from the second world war or the Korean conflict which exploded and ripped the ship in half. Equally damaging was the lack of forthrightness by the South Koreans and the Americans and their delay up to six months in publishing the findings of the incident which even then raised more questions than it answered. No one bothered to read North Korea's dossier nor listen to their firm denial of culpability. And by the time the full report became available,the rest of the world lost interest.
The only option left to Seoul and Washington was the military which they used to the hilt and tried to provoke North Korea to engage in warlike actions. And after a few tries, they finally got for what they wished during the 4 or 5 joint military exercises very near to the NLL. Seen through this lens, Seoul and Washington were aching for a military incident. It does not take much to realise that South Korea felt humiliated and insulted by the sunken 'Cheonan'. For the US, naval and air manoeuvres offered it the opportunity to harass and provoke Kim Jong il. Both allied countries felt that North Korea deserved punishment, and that violence not diplomacy is best served to resolve heightening tensions.
In spite of Lee Myung bek's threat to retaliate with missiles the next time North Korea fires at its ship tiptoeing dangerously near its territorial waters along the NLL, he cannot carry it out. For on the DMZ, North Korea has stationed more than a million troops and a mighty arsenal which could quickly flatten Seoul and bring the mighty South Korean economy to its knees. The US has ruled out a resort to war the more especially North Korea is a nuclear power!Furthermore, the Obama administration is knee deep in two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. More pertinently, China will not condone the destruction of North Korea and might intervene to save it as it 'rolled back' the US led UN troops during the Korean War to the 38 parallel. War in Korea would wreak havoc in the world's fragile finance market, triggering a deep global depression and might provoke revolution here and there and everywhere. In brief, Seoul and Washington have taken an uninvited road to war without truly weighing the consequences.
Diplomacy looks as though it is the sensible approach to take. But the US North Korea man,Stephen Bosworth, whilst preaching calm, rules out talking to North Korea. Translation: the US has boxed itself in a political and diplomatic cul de sac without an viable option. South Korea has an equally shaky grasp on working out differences and lessening tensions with the North. Japan is stuck in its own refusal to engage North Korea. Which leaves China and Russia: these two countries have serious doubts about Seoul's and Washington's motives; they, however, will labour diplomatically to cool hot tempers and try to prepare the ground for returning to the six party talks in Beijing. The real obstacle to this solution is the Obama administration which has enshired the hostile Bush North Korea policy into an object of slavish veneration.
So, in the end, the situation is not as neatly drawn as Seoul and Washington would have it. Will they change horses in midstream on dealing with North Korea? Or will they push the envelope of military confrontation in spite of the fact that they have much to lose by playing that card. Only time will tell...if that

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