Talk today is of North Korea’s movement to ‘Combat Duty Posture No. 1′ and with it threats to attack the US mainland along with US bases in Hawaii and Guam.
All this is not entirely out of the ordinary given as of late North Korea has been particularly belligerent and bellicose – even by their own lofty standards. But, what exactly is the reason behind the recent upsurge in North Korean theatrics?
Casual observers would point to the recently completed joint US-South Korean military exercises, the recent election in South Korea of conservative Park Geun-hye – daughter of former dictator Park Chung-hee – and her renewed strong stance against North Korean provocations including the possibility of blowing up North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Il-sung statues in retaliation to North Korean attacks, and a tougher stance taken by the US in withdrawing aid as a result of provocations.
But, whilst these developments no doubt play a role in North Korea’s increased ante, I don’t think they can solely be claimed as the reason for North Korea’s recent, prolonged bout of anger.
North Korea watchers have often stated that bellicose threats against foreign enemies are often fodder for the masses to remain placid and cognizant of the ‘true’ enemy of North Korea – outsiders. For the most, North Korea does not follow through with threats as they are fully aware of the consequences. However, in recent years there have been a number of exceptions, the most notable being the shelling of Yeonpyeng island in 2010.
Following the death of Kim Jong-il in 2011, pressure has been on Kim Jong-un to maintain the legacy and legitimacy of the North Korean regime established by his grandfather and carried through by his father in a much changed world and global hegemony. North Korea are not the formidable force they once were – there are almost constant rumours of competing Generals, officials and rats in the ranks. The nation now features on reports as not only one of the poorest nations in Asia but entire world. International sanctions increasingly hit a nation which relies on food and fuel aid to function. A cold, hungry nation is an angry nation.
Reports, which are essentially little more than rumours, indicate that the North Korean Army – once guaranteed food even during the most bleak of times – is running on empty – literally and metaphorically, with accounts of North Korean soldiers being forced back over the Yalu river home after fleeing for the relate comfort of China.
All this is not particularly new. North Korean troops have been hungry and increasingly going without for a decade – heaven help the poor local population with the ‘provisions’ the soldiers are provided. But, what is increasingly interesting is the attitude of other major players in the North Korea conundrum – the US, South Korea and China. As mentioned earlier, Park Geun-hye and by extension South Korea is no longer willing to play nice with North Korea – long gone seemingly are the days of the ‘Sunshine Policy’, the US is now actively discussing and preparing for the possible fall of North Korea (what better place to install all those returning soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan!?), and perhaps, most significantly, China recently stopped oil imports into North Korea having discussed the possible scenarios following a north Korean collapse and even possible reunification of the Korean peninsula.
Talk of a North Korean collapse is as old as the regime itself but it’s increasingly appearing that an East Asia with the North Korean regime smack bang in the middle of it is no longer possible, compatible or desired; and that all the major players are ready – increasingly unilaterally – to match fire with fire if North Korea decides – like a cornered rat – that the only way out is to risk it all and lash out in one last desperate move.
Time will tell. And, expect the unexpected as is always the case with anything and everything to do with North Korea.