By Stephen Gowans
A series of recent newspaper articles portend more — and potentially graver — troubles ahead on the Korean peninsula.
The Guardian of December 16 reports that “South Korea will hold a live-fire drill in an area shelled by North Korea as early as Saturday.” It is unclear from the Guardian report whether the South Korean military will fire artillery from Yeonpyeong Island into customary law-defined North Korean waters, thereby reprising the provocation that touched of the artillery exchange between the two sides only a few weeks ago. But if not a direct reprise of the earlier South Korean provocation, the planned live fire exercises will certainly approximate it.
According to the article, Korea expert Leonid Petrov, “warned that the move could inflame tensions on the peninsula.”
“It is appalling. If it was a bona fide need for artillery practice they have plenty of islands in the Western sea,” he said.
“This is simply sending a message that the South is putting pressure on the North – but at the same time refuses to negotiate.”
The North Korean news agency, KCNA, notes that the South’s naval firing exercises will take place in the East and South seas as well, and will follow similar drills carried out from December 6 to December 12.
North Korea sees the South’s exercises as “escalating the military tension and confrontation.”
The South Korean newspaper The Hankyoreh reported on December 8 that “South Korea and the United States have agreed to bomb North Korea using aircraft if North Korea launches additional provocations.”
It’s clear from South Korea’s response to the November 23 North Korean shelling of the South’s military garrison on Yeonpyeong Island that a similar response by North Korea to live fire into its territorial waters on Saturday will be labeled a provocation by Seoul.
This could, then, trigger a joint US-South Korea air strike on the North. Or it could simply be a move to continue to ratchet up military pressure on the North.
Either way, it’s clear who the aggressors are. Their game is dangerous.