North Korea threatens US after it helps South Korea
The question now is whether the furor over missiles actually marks another step on the way to a much more serious confrontation, or is simply another exercise in a long-running game of dare.
(Page 2 of 2)
The US was extremely reluctant to accede to South Korean demands for fear of increasing tensions on the Korean Peninsula but yielded in view of mounting threats by North Korea – especially in the Yellow Sea, the scene of a series of bloody incidents in recent years. The rhetoric from North Korea has increased markedly since the death of long-ruling leader Kim Jong-il last December.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Inside North Korea: more circus than bread
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
No one is certain, however, whether North Korea, under his son, Kim Jong-un, is seriously considering attacks such as those in the Yellow Sea in 2010 that killed 50 people, including 46 sailors, when a South Korean military ship was sunk by a torpedo fired by a North Korean midget submarine. Mr. Kim has been regularly visiting military units, often making strong statements, but also seems anxious to focus on the country’s overwhelming economic problems.
‘Blow to global nonproliferation?’
Mark Fitzpatrick, a former nonproliferation expert at the State Department now with the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, worries that “the deal is a blow to the global nonproliferation regime.”
Nonetheless, he says, increasing the range of South Korea’s missiles “won’t necessarily deepen the confrontation on the Korean Peninsula since South Korea and its American ally already could reach any target in North Korea.”
One major reason for the deal was President Lee's need to buttress his image at a time when his political popularity has been sagging. Although he cannot run for a second five-year term in the presidential election coming up in December, he would like to see his hard-line policy toward the North continue under the conservative candidate, Park Geun-hye, daughter of Park Chung-hee, the long-ruling South Korean dictator who was assassinated by his intelligence chief in 1979.
The goal for South Korea “was more for political effect than actual deterrence,” says Victor Cha, a professor at Georgetown who served on the National Security Council during the presidency of George W. Bush. While Americans were concerned about “raising security threats in the region with Japan and China,” says Mr. Cha, “this deal seems to meet South Korea’s political needs to show they are ‘doing something’ to enhance deterrence.”
South Korea’s top military commander, Gen. Jung Seung-jo, says the deal is needed as long as North Korea threatens to take over islands in the Yellow Sea that are within eyesight of North Korea’s southwestern coast.
If the North occupies any of the islands, says Jung, chairman of the South’s joint chiefs of staff, “we will surely have to take them back, and we now have proper countermeasures in place.”
Ominously, he adds, the South is “considering a preemptive strike if North Korea shows signs of using nuclear weapons.”
Straub sees South Korean "nationalism" at play in the missile agreement. “The South Korean establishment was bound and determined to get this from the United States.”