North Korea fired artillery at a South Korean town on Tuesday. It is the first direct attack by North Korea on South Korean soil since the Korean War ended in 1953. CNN quoted President Lee Myung-bak of the South as saying the incident required “enormous retaliation.”
Two South Korean Marines were killed and 15 soldiers and two civilians were injured when North Korea fired about 100 rounds of artillery at Yeonpyeong Island in the Yellow Sea.
The North Koreans blamed the attacks on maritime exercises being conducted by South Korea which it called maneuvers for a war of aggression, CNN reported.
The incident sparked strong rhetoric from allies of South Korea, and the United States has already sent an aircraft carrier to conduct joint defensive exercises with South Korea as a show of force against North Korea, Fox News reported.
Aiden Forster-Carter, a Korea expert, said the shelling of the South Korean town and North Korea’s showing off of a new uranium enrichment facility were designed to make sure the world continued to take North Korea seriously. North Korea is undergoing a regime change which might make them feel the need to prove they are still strong, although even China has begun to distance itself from its ally because of North Korea’s continued instability.
North Korea exists largely outside of the normal international diplomatic and financial institutions which are traditionally used to apply leverage, Fox News reported. North Korea has also resisted pressure from its ally, China.
Another theory is that the attack was designed to show the North Korean people that Kim Jong Un is able to stand up to the US and international community like his father did. There may also be a power struggle going on between Jong Un and the top echelons of the military. Even without the internal power struggle, the logic behind North Korea’s actions is hard to determine
North Korea maintains a large standing army and is thought to have crude nuclear weapons, so military action is something the international community would rather avoid. The US military is also unlikely to want to take on the might of Korea with its military already over stretched with missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Unfortunately, the North Koreans are inconsistent and unpredictable when it comes to international politics, so there is no one who can say what their next move will be. While sending the US military for joint defensive exercises with the South Koreans may seem sensible, the North Koreans have not responded well to shows of force in the past, and this one may not be any different.
The real key to exercising some leverage over North Korea is getting China to back up the US and international community and, though the Chinese have been relatively quiet over the recent bombardment, they have done nothing in support of North Korea as they would normally do. Military exercises in China’s part of the world may make the Chinese uncomfortable enough that they choose to back North Korea.