Wrong country blamed for artillery exchange on Korean peninsula

By Stephen Gowans

While North Korea has been blamed for Tuesday’s exchange of artillery fire on the Korean peninsula, a close reading of news reports shows that it was South Korea that created a tinderbox and then provided the spark.

The incident happened along the Northern Limit Line, a Western sea border unilaterally drawn by the United States at the end of the Korean War and never accepted by the North. The Northern Limit Line has been the site of a number of skirmishes between ROK and DPRK naval forces.

A year ago, the countries’ warships clashed in the disputed area, with a North Korean warship going down in flames. “In 1999, a North Korean ship went down with thirty sailors lost and maybe seventy wounded” in the same area. [1] The contested border is not part of the Armistice Agreement that brought active hostilities to an end.

The backdrop for the latest incident was the South’s mobilizing 70,000 troops, 50 warships, 90 helicopters, 500 warplanes and 600 tanks in war-games exercises the North had vigorously objected to. Pyongyang described the exercises—which also involved the US Marines and the US Air Force–as “simulating an invasion of the North”, “a means to provoke a war” and “a rehearsal for an invasion.” Western press reports and US government officials dismissed Pyongyang’s anxiety over the war-games as overblown, pointing out that the exercise had been announced in advance. But advance notice hardly lessens the potential threat of massing troops, or makes the North Korean military’s task of distinguishing between war-games and preparation for an invasion any easier.

With the North Koreans already on edge, South Korea acted to heighten the tension.

According to an Associated Press report:

“The skirmish began Tuesday when North Korea warned the South to halt military drills near their sea border…When Seoul refused and began firing artillery into disputed waters…the North retaliated by shelling the small island of Yeonpyeong…” [2]

The South Korean newspaper, The Hankyoreh, carried a similar report.

“Prior to the incident the South Korean military carried out a firing exercise…in the (disputed) area around Yeonpyeong Island and Baengnyeong Island…North Korea sent a message Tuesday morning that it would not tolerate firing in its territorial waters.” [3]

The New York Times noted that South Korean “artillery units had been firing from a battery on the South Korean island of Baeknyeongdo, close to the North Korean coast” and that “the South acknowledged firing test shots in the (disputed) area.” [4]

These press reports show that South Korea acted to inflame an already volatile situation. While most media reports obscured the point, South Korea fired the first shots.

The South regularly mounts war-games drills directed at North Korea, keeping the North on a continual war footing and in a constant state of high alert. North Korea’s response to the provocation is being used to justify a build-up of US forces in the region, and more joint ROK-US exercises.

“President Obama and South Korea’s president agreed…to hold joint military exercises as a first response,” reported the New York Times. “The exercise will include sending the aircraft carrier George Washington and a number of accompanying ships into the region…” [5]

Earlier this year, the United States and South Korea used the sinking of the Cheonan, a South Korean warship, as an excuse to ratchet up military pressure on North Korea. The warship appears to have run aground in the same area in which the latest incident occurred. Seoul and Washington blamed North Korea for the sinking, but the evidence South Korea brought forward in a report authored by itself and its allies is disputed within South Korea and has been questioned by an official Russian investigation. North Korea vehemently denies it sunk the warship.

The latest South Korean provocation may be part of a larger US-ROK campaign to escalate military pressure on North Korea, with the aim of forcing Pyongyang to divert more of its limited resources to defense, thereby crippling North Korea’s prospects for development and possibly ushering in the collapse of the country. Washington has long followed a practice of isolating, blockading and using military threats to intimidate countries that have broken free of imperialist domination. This isn’t an isolated incident, in which an unpredictable and bellicose North Korea behaves badly to extract concessions from the West–as the predictably anti-North Korea Western media put it–but part of a larger pattern of the West seeking the DPRK’s destruction through a program of escalating diplomatic isolation, economic warfare and military provocations.

1. “Historian Bruce Cumings: US Stance on Korea Ignores Tensions Rooted in 65-Year-Old Conflict; North Korea Sinking Could Be Response to November ’09 South Korea Attack”, Democracy Now, May 27, 2010.

2. Hyung-Jin Kim and Kwang-Tae Kim, “Tensions high as North, South Korea trade shelling”, The Associated Press, November 23, 2010.

3. Kwon Hyuk-chul, “President Lee has changed his position from controlled response to manifold retaliation”, The Hankyoreh, November 24, 2010.

4. Mark McDonald, “Crisis Status’ in South Korea After North Shells Island” The New York Times, November 23, 2010.

5. David E. Sanger, “U.S. to send carrier for joint exercises off Korea”, The New York Times, November 23, 2010.

12 thoughts on “Wrong country blamed for artillery exchange on Korean peninsula

  1. If Wikileaks was being funded by the US govt. then why in the hell are they distorting the very context of which the leaks read? There’s no concrete connections between Wikileaks and the US. They’re already trying to get Assange arrested on various, bullshit charges.

  2. Whilst I agree with AR’s advice to treat the WikiLeaks revelations with skepticism, it is important to remember that the documents reflect the nature of raw intelligence. Intel agencies have exactly the same problem as readers of Wikileaks – what to believe, or not.
    “Intelligence” is rarely, if ever, cut and dried in the QED sense. Most official intelligence reports are the result of ‘expert assessments’ (guesses) of information af varying quality and reliability made by people with a relevant background.

  3. “Its mainly to provoke the DPRK into another war and try to get the Chinese at the North Korean aid so they can destroy both.”

    It’s possible, but unlikely, that North Korea will be attacked by the United States while the regime enjoys genuine and active Chinese support and concern on grounds of “preserving regional stability”. And one can confidently dismiss the notion of a direct military confrontation between the US and China; or the US and Russia for that matter. America only launches its ‘wars’ with entities over which it has a demonstrable and overwhelming military advantage. This is not the case with China and Russia. Both have air and naval defense capabilities which would make a US bombing raid, or cruise missile attack, a very risky proposition. But the most important factor is that both China and Russia have the ability to strike US assets anywhere in the world, including the continental U.S.A. which would tend to make such a conflict unpopular with Americans.

    It is also worth noting that ballistic missile defense (ABM) systems, in their present iteration, don’t work because the velocity required for swift interception is too high to precisely target the incoming warhead. In any case a theoretical future ABM system, capable of reliably dissembling an atomic warhead, can always be overwhelmed by a combination of multiple missiles and the deployment of physical and electronic decoys.
    China and Russia are quite safe from US aggression, and will remain so.

  4. Let me offer a contrarian perspective on Wikileaks.

    To me, one should examine Wikileaks as an organization very carefully and not uncritically accept that its leaks are genuine.

    I know that many people will dismiss this idea as “conspiracy theory” (as they do with the 9-11 Truth Movement), but there is another argument about the nature of Wikileaks:

    Far from being some kind of antiwar whistle-blowing group that is opposed to the American regime and its operations around the world, Wikileaks itself is a covert American “PSYOPS” or disinformation operation.

    1). First, one must question how Wikileaks is able to acquire the massive amounts of data and information that it has released in the first place. Like past leaks, this most recent leak has involved tens of thousands of documents and communiqués of one sort or another.

    Is the American national security state so incompetent (or Wikileaks so powerful) that so many confidential documents and information were effectively pilfered–again and again?

    2). Secondly, there is the argument that most of the Wikileaks information that is supposedly damaging to the USA is nothing new. In fact, many of the Wikileaks atrocities committed by the USA in Iraq and Afghanistan have been reported on by both the alternative media/antiwar movement and even the mainstream media to a degree.

    Indeed, one curious political effect of Wikileaks is to tacitly support American war objectives and propaganda against countries ranging from Iran to North Korea to Pakistan.

    For instance, one current claim made by Wikileaks is that North Korea supplied Iran with 19 Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missiles. Rather than undermining American war propaganda, this assertion of course would buttress US hysterics about the “Iran Threat” or “Axis of Evil.”

    3). Thirdly, if Julian Assange is supposedly public enemy number one of the USA and its allies, why hasn’t he been arrested yet? I find it hard to believe that the combined might and reach of America and other Western intelligence/police agencies are unable to locate such a high profile figure like Assange.

    4). Finally, there is the opinion of governments like Iran and Turkey, as well as others who have questioned the legitimacy of these Wikileaks and raise the possibility that this entire organization is an American/Western black ops.

    PM Erdoğan questions WikiLeaks’ credibility

    WikiLeaks’ credibility in doubt, says Erdoğan

    Iran: WikiLeaks release highly dubious

    Iran slams Wiki-release as US psywar

    Iran to Arab States: Do not Fall in WikiLeaks Trap

    Something stinks about Wikileaks…

    Wikileaks: a political diversion

    Suspicions abound that Wikileaks is part of U.S. cyber-warfare operations

    Russia Today Dishes The Dirt On Wikileaks

  5. Since the new Wikileak reports have come out, detailing hundreds of thousands of secret cables between the US and their allies, the mainstream media have been using these leaks to try and distort them out of context in order to justify demonization against countries such as the DPRK and Iran. Mostly, I think it’s important to point out the fallacies on the China/DPRK reporting going around through mainstream media, but I’ll also provide a second link, pointing out the clear distortions on the Iran/DPRK reporting on nuclear missile sale claims:



  6. If there’s one thing about America, they are the most brazen liars on the planet.

    The United Snakes of America, its phony free press, and political class have no limits in terms of arrogance and deception.

    The same America that lied about “Weapons of Mass Destrution” in Iraq for over a decade doesn’t bat an eye lying about Iran now.

    As for McCain and Palin, they are war criminals.

    And it’s long over due to consider bringing America’s war criminal regime in general to an end–permanently.

  7. Looks like the Western media and politicians are taking advantage of this crisis, AGAIN! First they’re now trying to use this incident to claim that Iran is holding nuclear weapons by the DPRK:


    And both McCain and Palin are using this to their own advantage by stating that “it’s time to consider a regime change in North Korea.”


  8. Its mainly to provoke the DPRK into another war and try to get the Chinese at the North Korean aid so they can destroy both. Or the South Korean military adhereing to the Rhee Doctrine of the sole plan of South Korea is; to Destroy the North Korean Communists. And More or less the US airforce migh do the same naplam bombing as before, destryoing North Korea in a blazing fire once again.

  9. *The incident happened along the Northern Limit Line, a Western sea border unilaterally drawn by the United States at the end of the Korean War and never accepted by the North. The Northern Limit Line has been the site of a number of skirmishes between ROK and DPRK naval forces. *

    the us anglo clique is the source of so many flash points all over the world from ip, kashmir, me to the indo sino dispute….

  10. Why is it that S. Korean military exercises are always held in disputed areas? If the South was just holding military exercises and did not mean to provoke N. Korea, then it would hold it farther away from the area of tension. That it did not do so smells of deliberate provocation. I bet that if N. Korea chose to hold military exercises in that same area, the S. Koreans and their US masters would immediately cry “PROVOCATION!” and then try to line up the usual “international community” to condemn the North’s irresponsible and dangerous move.
    Something sinister is going on and N.Korea is not to blame.

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