The fragile peace between North and South Korea appears nearer and nearer to cracking.
A staggering number of reported armistice violations, which have totaled 343, 404 since July 1953, an average of 1,000 per month, illustrate this.
North Korea has accused the South of more than 80 percent of the alleged violations. South Korean and United Nations Command officials say most are North Korea's fabrications.
The majority of violations recorded are comparatively minor, such as failure to identify personnel or vehicles within the demilitarized zone (DMZ). But more serious incidents, such as violation of airspace or exchange of gunfire, fuel daily fears of renewed hostilities.
The American-led UN Command says that the DMZ is no longer effective, since North Korea has fortified its side with military supplies and equipment, and hazards such as land mines, tank traps, and even anti-aircraft guns. An estimated 1 million men are massed along either side of the DMZ. The density of forces within this narrow strip is probably unsurpassed worldwide.
A month rarely goes by without South Korean authorities announcing that they have shot or captured North Korean infiltrators or broken another spy ring.
A recently disclosed plot to assassinate South Korean President Chun Doo Hwan , involving three Canadians, one of South Korean origin, is firmly believed by the South Korean government to have been instigated by North Korea.
The North recently announced that 14.5 percent of its 1982 budget expenditure was earmarked for defense. But South Korean sources say the North devotes about 24 percent of its $16.2 billion GNP to defense, compared to Seoul's 6 percent of its $58 billion GNP.
A 1979 report by the US Defense Intelligence Agency compared numerically troops, armor, artillery, ships, and aircraft in North and South Korea and concluded:
''By nearly every measure of combat power, the North Koreans enjoy significant advantages over the South. . . . Pyongyang may miscalculate and act out of a sense that the longer a decision to attempt reunification by military means is delayed, the less viable force remains as an option.''
Intelligence sources in Seoul estimate that 70 percent of the North Korean Army and 60 percent of its Navy are positioned within a radius of just over 60 miles from Seoul, and most of its frontline Air Force is within five minutes' flying time of the southern capital.
A US military spokesman describing North Korea's military exercises as ''increasingly offensive,'' said that, ''from a capability standpoint, the North has strength for a military option it may not have had before. Our concern is whether we can deter; but for peace to continue we have to train to fight and win.''
US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shoesmith, told the US Senate foreign relations subcommittee last month ''a dangerous imbalance persists on the peninsula. North Korea has 37 percent more troops than South Korea, twice as many aircraft and four times as many ships.''
The probability that Kim Jong Il will succeed his father, 70-year-old North Korean President Kim Il Sung, in the near future makes South Koreans even more uneasy. They prefer the man they know, fearing the son will take an even harder line than his father to win support (that observers say he does not yet have) of the North Korean military.
Hopes for even partial political rapprochement, let alone full-scale reunification, crash every time they are raised. President Chun's reunification formula is based on recognizing the existing political and military status quo; but North Korea has said it won't deal with Chun's government.