12 April 2013 No Comments by The Northern Standard

It is now one month since the UN passed Resolution 2094 imposing sanctions on North Korea in response to its nuclear testing on February 12th. Since then a geopolitical game of cat and mouse has taken place between the North Korean government and their counterparts in Seoul and Washington. Whether the threats emanating from North Korea result in actual military engagement is still open to debate, but with the US and South Koreans reluctant to back down, a stalemate has developed. Reporting directly from Seoul, David Keelaghan looks at the reasons for this dispute and what the consequences may be.

How do you know when sabre rattling is just that and not the precursor for something much more sinister? It is a question that famously got the better of Neville Chamberlain, who will forever be remembered in history as such. The reason to ask this now of course is the events currently playing out on the Korean peninsula and in particular, its northern half.

 For weeks now North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has issued far from subtle threats directed squarely at South Korea and its main ally the United States. Pyongyang claim to have nuclear missiles capable of reaching the US mainland, something western experts have generally dismissed. What is not up for debate, however, is the fact that the regime in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (to give its full, slightly unwieldy title) has stepped up its efforts in achieving the aim of developing inter-continental missiles.

 Last Friday the DPRK began work on reopening the Yongbyon nuclear facility, a move they insisted was primarily to provide weapons grade material for the war effort. It is a key goal of the Kim Jong-un leadership to finally force North Korea’s entry into the nuclear club. This he believes will bring prestige to the country and much more leverage at the negotiating table. That leverage should subsequently provide a host of benefits, not least favourable trade terms, foreign aid, as well as an end to the latest UN sanctions that have so enraged Pyongyang and caused the situation to deteriorate so rapidly and to this level.

 The question now is – what lengths will Kim Jong-un go to prove his mettle as a military force? While an attack on the US mainland remains implausible at the present time, South Korea, Japan and a host of other US military bases in the region certainly remain firmly on the North Korean radar. The current impasse has not yet witnessed any direct military confrontation, but with the words of warning reaching new levels of intensity each passing day, the time for mere talking will surely soon be at an end.

 Despite this, everyday life in Seoul shows little signs of looming disaster. I arrived here on March 1st to begin a year teaching at an English Language School located on the outskirts of the city. My timing was impeccable in this case, and at first the reports occupying the lead stories of most of the major western news organisations were more than a tad disconcerting. Before I arrived the major impression I had of Kim Jong-un was of an inexperienced ruler thrust into power way before his time – much happier meeting stars of the NBA like Dennis Rodman than attempting to solve the myriad of problems facing his country. His appearance certainly leaves plenty of room for satire also – an opportunity many western comics have not missed out on.

 I was surprised though to hear some of my students also make light of the North Korean “Supreme Ruler”, 8-year olds laughing and joking about their supposed hated enemy. The innocence and naivety of youth perhaps; but should the latest member of the Kim dynasty instead be feared like his father and grandfather before him? He has certainly reacted in the past month like a man and leader with a point to prove, both to his own people and the outside world.

 For many South Koreans the behaviour of Kim Jong-un is not cause for grave concern. They have been here before of course, many times; the North and South have technically still been at war since the armistice of 1953 secured a truce but not peace. Since then there have been frequent occasions when a full-scale renewal of hostilities looked likely, but as yet, it has not happened.

 Most recently was the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island by North Korean forces in November 2010, resulting in the death of four South Koreans. Unsurprisingly, this brought an emphatic response from Seoul and the tinderbox that is the peninsula looked ready to ignite. Eventually cooler heads prevailed among the two sides, no doubt with the US and China playing a …

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