North Korea refrains from retaliation after South Korea artillery drill
North Korea had threatened a harsh response if South Korea went ahead with military exercises in disputed waters Monday. But it could still take action, experts say.
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The drills were designed “to demonstrate their [South Korean] resolve and try to restore deterrence,” adds Daniel Pinkston, an analyst in Seoul with the International Crisis Group think tank. “It was mostly a political signal.”Skip to next paragraph
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Pyongyang decided not to answer that signal Monday, suggests Professor Myers, because the secretive regime, widely blamed for sparking the current crisis, “realized they could probably get at least an international propaganda advantage out of not retaliating … to show the rest of the world they are not the hostile ones.”
The North's Army Supreme Command stated Monday, "The revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK did not feel any need to retaliate against every despicable military provocation like one taking revenge after facing a blow," according to a statement quoted by the official KCNA news agency.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is also loath to risk any chance of a full-scale war that the North would undoubtedly lose, destroying his country and his son’s prospects of taking power there, argues David Kang, head of the Korean Studies Institute at the University of Southern California.
“We are in a new cold war on the Korean peninsula,” Professor Kang says. “There will be name calling, threats, and posturing” on both sides, “and even some shooting,” he predicts. “But I would be surprised to see a major military mobilization or the start of a second Korean War.”
North Korea does not recognize its maritime border with the South, which was drawn by the United Nations at the conclusion of the Korean War, which ended with an armistice, not a formal peace treaty. The North claims both the island of Yeonpyeong and the waters where the shells landed during Seoul's exercises. There have been several naval skirmishes near the boundary, known as the Northern Limit Line, in recent years.
“They have been shooting at each other for 60 years,” Kang points out, “but that has never led to major mobilization. Both sides know that if that happened, they would be rolling the dice with their own existence. So they are very careful not to challenge the fundamental balance of power on the peninsula.”