North Korea Brinkmanship

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North Korea’s Brinkmanship Threatens South Korea (Cheon Soengwhun (KINU Senior Research Fellow)

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North Korea’s criticism and threats against South Korea have gone to extremes. The communist country’s scathing denunciation of the South Korean leadership has long been commonplace. The North has made every onceivable kind of verbal threat against the South; it seems that words no longer matter and only actions are left. On April 23, the supreme command of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) leveled the most specific threatagainst South Korea through the so-called ‘special operations task force.’ It represents the
ultimate consummation of serious offensives against South Korea recently perpetrated by North Korea.

The special operations task force said, “To annihilate reckless challenges from rebellious elements, we will launch special actions based on revolutionary force soon.” It went on to say that within three to four minutes from commencement of its actions, “we will raze all sources of provocation to the ground with unprecedented special means and our own methods.” North Korea’s ceaseless threats of this nature conjure up the image of a poisonous snake.

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North Korea has ratcheted up its offensive since Kim Jong-il’s death late last year. The North began lambasting the South Korean government for selectively allowing its people to make condolence calls for Kim Jong-il and putting its entire military on alert for a possible contingency. The communist country argued that South Korea committed lese-majesty rather than expressing its regrets in the face of ‘national mourning.’From the so-called Day of the Sun marking the centennial of Kim Il-sung’s birthday on April 15, North Korea began to dramatically step up its vilification of South Korea. The South Korean public heavily criticized North Korea for pouring about US$ 2 billion, equivalent to thirty percent of its annual budget, into celebrations of its late leader’s birthday while its populace starves and the country remains impoverished. Major media outlets in South Korea made an issue out of this situation, and university students and civic groups made a performance mocking the Day of the Sun in Gwanghwamun Square. The North Korean authorities flared up in anger in response.

On April 18, North Korea’s Committee for Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland threatened that South Korea would fully pay the price for its massive provocation by mocking the Day of the Sun. On the same day, the supreme command of the KPA threatened to take special actions to blow up the center of Seoul as it is the epicenter of slander against North Korea’s highest dignity, i.e. ‘the Kims.’ On April 19, North Korea’s government, political parties, and organizations issued a joint statement that the country would wage a holy war of revenge if South Korea fails to offer an apology for having mocked the Day of the Sun. On April 23, the spokesperson for the North Korean foreign ministry contended that the South Korean government would be wholly liable for any contingency on the Korean peninsula. He also threatened that any of its allies interfering in the internal affairs of the Korean people would be subject to “the spear head of rage by our military and people.”

In the international community of the 21st century, North Korea is the only country hurling such raw criticism and curses. It has made remarks lacking basic common sense and of course has failed to comply with rules of the international community. With matters failing to turn out as it intended, North Korea is making coarse threats and even resorting to blackmail by threatening use of force in the worse case, which is no better than ‘rambunctious behavior’ of organized gangsters. North Korea also shows the attributes of gangsters who are weak to the strong and strong to the weak. While ignoring the South, the North strives to be on good terms with the US. On April 13, North Korea argued upon its launch of a ballistic missile that the peaceful use of space constitutes a right of a sovereign nation, protesting that the international community is provoking a quarrel, particularly with regard to the launch of an artificial satellite by the North. The reason is simple: North Korea is behaving like gangsters spiraling out of control.

Amidst serious concerns that North Korea may perpetrate a provocation by taking advantage of political instability in South Korea ahead of its presidential election in December, North Korea has intimidated South Korea to make matters worse. China and the US worry that North Korea’s verbal threats may flare into actions. The more reckless the remarks and provocations North Korea makes, the stronger the conviction the international community will have that the only way to resolve all the problems caused by North Korea is reunification led by South Korea. In sum, North Korea is driving a nail into its own coffin.

The South Korean government is calmly and resolutely responding to North Korea’s threats. The Ministry of Unification urged North Korea to exercise self-restraint while the Ministry of National Defense clarified its position that it would adamantly punish North Korea in the case of its provocation. The sinking of the Cheonan, a South Korean naval corvette, by a North Korean torpedo and North Korea’s shelling of Yeonpyeongdo Island heightened the South Korean people’s concerns over national security. According to a survey conducted by the Ministry of Public Administration and Security in 2011, most of the South Korean population (84.0% of adults and 76.8% of teenagers) responded that South Korea should militarily respond to any further armed provocation by North Korea. Hopefully, the North Korean leadership will soon realize that any further provocations on its part will yield no gains.