Doubtless you’ve seen the headlines about North Korea’s shelling of a South Korean island near the coast of North Korea, killing two South Korean Marines.
The usual claims have been made, denunciations issued and sabers rattled. But this is another in a long line of serious incidents that the North has been willing to provoke. The reasons however, remain speculative. Why is NoKo sinking South Korean ships and killing South Korean Marines?
Well let’s turn to the experts, shall we? One says it has to do with food and, most likely starvation within North Korea:
One of the analysts who linked the North’s action to food aid was Choi Jin-wook, a North Korea expert at the Korea Institute for National Unification, a research institute in Seoul. “It’s a sign of North Korea’s increasing frustration,” said.
“Washington has turned a deaf ear to Pyongyang and North Korea is saying, ‘Look here. We’re still alive. We can cause trouble. You can’t ignore us.’ ”
Mr. Choi said North Korea had become frustrated over the Obama administration’s refusal to remove a broad range of sanctions against the regime for its continuing nuclear efforts.
“They see that they can’t pressure Washington,” he said, “so they’ve taken South Korea hostage again.”
“They’re in a desperate situation and they want food immediately, not next year,” he said.
It is indeed true that there have been sanctions which have limited the food supplies that could be shipped in, and they’ve had another bad harvest. But is that the only reason?
Don’t forget, it was just a week ago or so that we learned they had significantly upgraded their nuclear capabilities with what a visiting US professor described as an astonishingly modern facility for processing nuclear material.
Siegfried S. Hecker, a Stanford professor who previously directed the Los Alamos National Laboratory, said in an interview that he had been “stunned” by the sophistication of the new plant, where he saw “hundreds and hundreds” of centrifuges that had just been installed in a recently gutted building and operated from what he called “an ultra-modern control room.”
So, is it just about food? Or is it, as others have claimed, an incident generated for internal political reasons? As we’ve heard recently, Kim Jong Il has promoted his third son, Kim Jong-un, to 4 star general – a move seen as a precursor to handing over power to him at some future point. Jong-un is a young man with little experience. Therefore, say some experts, this was about burnishing credentials as well as consolidating power:
If that's the case, it becomes a much more complicated and serious incident. North Korean tantrums and the provocations that mark them are not unusual and normally signal their willingness to negotiate something for something. That, for instance, would the the case if food were the predominant problem. But if we're in the middle of a power shift, and given the existence of a previously unknown, ultra-modern nuclear weapons facility, is it more dangerous than that?
NORTH KOREA has burnished the leadership credentials of its 26-year-old dictator-in-waiting with a deadly artillery attack on South Korean territory, causing its neighbour to return fire and scramble F-16 fighters.
Two South Korean marines died, and at least 12 were wounded. There were reports of civilian injuries and houses were set ablaze as scores of shells fell on Yeonpyeong island.
A North Korea expert at Beijing’s Central Party School, Zhang Liangui, told the Herald that Kim Jong-un was deliberately destabilising the environment in order to mobilise the military and consolidate his power.
While the previous incident involving the sinking of a South Korean military ship took many more lives than today, it had some “plausible deniability” attached to it, something the North Koreans took advantage of to deny any involvement. But not today. This incident is an act of provocation and belligerence. I’m of the opinion there’s a lot more going on here than food.
It will be interesting to see how the administration handles this incident.