North Korea Military Action – Why?

LSW has heard several explanations of the seemingly incomprehensible shelling of the South Korean island by North Korea which are summarized in this BBC article.

Two things which struck LSW as important are:

1. The incident may be related to the handover of power from Kim Jong-il to his son Kim Jong-un. The BBC writes:

“Analysts say incidents such as the sinking of the Cheonan warship in March and the recent artillery firing are unlikely to be rogue actions by the North Korean military. Rather, they are aimed at bolstering Kim Jong-un’s standing.”

2. North Korea sent several messages protesting military exercises (with live fire, LSW heard in a report) just a few kilometers off the coast of North Korea, thus possibly provoking North Korea’s response.

Thomas P. Kim at the Korea Policy Institute provides an excellent backdrop to North Korea’s military action in an interview on KPFK’s Uprising program by Sonali Kolhatkar. He talks, among other things such as a quick history of North Korean, about the value that North Korea places on its sovereignty which has led to attempts to negotiate with the U.S. and establish relations with the U.S. Interesting interview.

The Korea Policy Institute writes in an illuminating article:

“In response to a live fire artillery drill conducted by South Korean forces, North Korea fired some 100 artillery rounds at Yeonpyeong Island, a South Korean military post with a civilian fishing community located two miles from the disputed maritime demarcation line and eight miles from the coast of North Korea.”

And

“Firing from the vicinity of Yeonpyeong Island near the coast of North Korea, the South Korean artillery drill took place as part of a display of military might, which North Korea claims simulates the invasion of its territory. The games were to involve 70,000 South Korean soldiers, 50 war ships, 90 helicopters and 500 planes in joint exercises with the U.S. 7th Air Force and the U.S. Marines 31st Expeditionary Unit, through November 30, 2010.”

And

“North Korea’s resolve to defend itself from what it perceives as hostile policies and war games of the U.S. and the Lee Myung Bak administration is evident in its development of a nuclear arsenal and in its response to the military exercises on Tuesday. It is abundantly clear that the US-South Korean determination to contain North Korea by a repeated show of force is moribund, and extremely risky. It is time to exercise restraint and get back to negotiations with North Korea lest the cycle of retaliation upon retaliation, leading to all-out war, be unbroken.”

For another perspective, listen to an interview with Charles Armstrong at the Center for Korea Research on KPFK’s Daily Briefing with Ian Masters.

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