North Korea, don't mess with South, US signals to Kim Jong-il
North Korea was sent a clear message from the United States over the past four days of joint war games with South Korea, whose commanders were buoyed by the massive display of American support.
The United States and South Korea today concluded four days of highly publicized military exercises with a volley of shots against carefully submerged practice targets and the sense of accomplishing what they set out to do: intimidate North Korea.Skip to next paragraph
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While no one was writing “mission accomplished” on banners in reference to the spectacle of 20 US and South Korean navy vessels and 200 planes playing war games off the South’s east coast, South Korea's commanders were clearly buoyed by the massive display of US support.
South Korean Rear Adm. Kim Kyung-sik said the US and South Korea were now “better prepared to respond to any challenge” after warplanes from both countries practiced zeroing in on targets as elusive as the mini-submarine that sunk a South Korean navy vessel in March in the Yellow Sea off the South’s west coast.
Admiral Kim told Korean reporters that US and South Korean “impressive” firepower “sent a strong warning to North Korea that its aggressive behavior won’t be forgiven,” with the two sides “enhancing our combined defense capabilities.”
Road to confrontation
Although North Korea did not make good on threats to challenge the exercises militarily, skeptics see the war games as sharpening a sense of confrontation in the region while setting back peace and reconciliation efforts between the two Koreas.
“The US wanted to make sure to continue to maintain and strengthen its leadership in this corner of the world,” says Paik Hak-soon, long-time scholar on North Korea at the influential Sejong Institute in Korea, thereby “sacrificing its former goal of denuclearizing North Korea.”
North Korea has said it’s now interested in returning to six-party talks on its nuclear program, which were last held in Beijing in December 2008, but observers believe the North is planning a third underground test of a nuclear device and more missile tests.
“North Korea has many options,” says Mr. Paik. “No one can prevent North Korea. Nothing has been accomplished in terms of denuclearizing North Korea. What is left is more pronounced confrontation.”