What happened ?
Below is a chronology of the events which has determined this yet unfinished crisis on the Korean Peninsula:
Aug. 4: two South Koreans soldiers triggered the mines planted undetected ( presumably between July 22 and August 4 ) by the North military closed to their post within the South Korean half of the 2.5-mile-wide Demilitarized Zone, a buffer separating the two Korean armies. Both were wounded ( both losing one of their legs ). The mines were planted just outside the South Korean guard post and exploded when the soldiers opened the gate of the barbed –wire fence to begin the routine patrol. Officials here said that the last episodes in which South Korean troops had been killed or wounded by similarly planted North Korean mines inside the DMZ took place in 1967; “This is a clear provocation by the North Korean military,” said Kim Min-seok, a spokesman for the South Korean military. “We swear a severe retaliation.”
Aug. 10: South Korea , in a gesture of answer to the provocative act resumed loudspeaker propaganda broadcasts across the border for the first time in 11 years, expressing bitter criticism of the North’s government. Such kind of broadcasts were suspended in 2004 as part of efforts at reconciliation between the two Korean states. “For the North, this is a low-cost provocation that creates a big psychological impact on the South,” said Kim Yong-hyun, a North Korea expert at Dongguk University in Seoul. “Those North Korean wooden box land mines usually blow away legs only, not always killing their victims”. The North has threatened to attack the loudspeakers if the broadcasts resume; Ban Ki-moon , UN Secretary General ,has voiced concern over reports that the Korean People’s Army has placed new land mines in the southern half of the Demilitarized Zone in the Korean Peninsula and urged the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) to fully adhere to the obligations under the Armistice Agreement and engage in dialogue on this incident.
Aug. 19: As tension mounted between the two parts, North and South Korea have reached an agreement to increase the minimum wage of the North Korean workers at Kaesong, a decade–old industrial complex jointly run , where 53 800 North Koreans are working at 124 factories ; Kaesong complex is an example of cooperation between two parts and a source of hard currency for the North Korean elite. According to the public sources, the workers there earn a monthly average of $166. The South pays the wages directly to the North Korean government; how much each worker actually receives is unknown.
Aug. 20: North Korea attacked with a rocket the South positions. “The fact that the North only launched one rocket without hitting any South Korean loudspeaker indicates that the North meant it as a warning,” said Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea expert at Dongguk University in Seoul. After an exchange of artillery fire between the two parts, South Korean President Park Geun-hye convened an emergency meeting of the South’s National Security Council and called the military to “deal resolutely with any North Korean provocations,” according to her spokesman, Min Kyung-wook.
Aug.21: The North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un ordered his front-line military units to go on a ‘semi-war state’ after South Korea said the two Koreas had exchanged rocket and artillery fire the day before in the first major armed clash across their border in five years. The North ordered its front-line units to be prepared to attack South Korean loudspeakers along the border unless they stopped blaring propaganda broadcasts by next day evening. North Korea issued the same alert in 1968, when it captured the American spy ship Pueblo, and in 1993, when it was an acute standoff with Washington over its nuclear weapons program .
Aug. 22: Both sides continue to exchange artillery shells, and South Korea kept the loudspeakers functioning along the day. The North, which had warned that it would consider use of the loudspeakers an “act of war,” said that if the South did not shut the speakers off by 5 p.m. Saturday ( August 22nd ) , it would take “strong military action,” including attacking the loudspeakers. Several hours prior to 5 p.m., both parts agreed to open negotiations in order to defuse the crisis. South Korea had expressed its own firm decision to continue the broadcasts as long as the North will not apologize for the planted landmines and for the damages provoked. While the talks were underway, the loudspeakers continued the broadcasts. “What we see is the two Koreas challenging each other’s nerve, going soft and tough at the same time,” said Lee Byong-chul, a senior fellow at the Institute for Peace and Cooperation in Seoul; UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, encouraged both sides to pave the way for deescalating the situation and promoting peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. “He calls on the parties to redouble efforts to resolve differences through dialogue while refraining from taking any measure that is not conducive to dialogue,” points out a statement issued by the UN spokesperson.
Aug. 23: Negotiations began Saturday in the village of Panmunjom which kept a special building for such meeting between the two parts but they failed to reach an agreement. North and South are technically at war since 1953. The negotiations continued also that day being discussed the retreat of 11 batteries of propaganda loudspeakers of the South. The North had advanced its artillery forces to the frontline. A South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman said : “We have also detected 70 percent of the North Korean submarines missing from their bases, and we are looking for their whereabouts /…/This is a typical North Korean tactic of talking on one hand and brandishing military power on the other to try to force their way.”
Aug. 24: President Park Geun-hye of South Korea said that there was “no backing down” in the talks and that would continue its loudspeaker broadcasts unless the North apologized for its recent provocations. “In order to stop the repeating cycle of provocations and anxiety, we need a clear apology and commitment from the North that these things will not happen again” said President Park. The negotiations continued all the day, the South being represented by Kim Kwan-jin, the chief national security adviser to President Park Geun-hye of South Korea and the North by Vice Marshal Hwang Pyong-so, the most powerful military officer in the North after the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un. At the political level, the parts were represented by Unification Minister Hong Yong Pyo ( South) , respectively Kim Yang Gon, a secretary of the ruling Workers' Party ( North) . South Korea’s Defense Ministry said that South Korea and U.S. are discussing the deployment of strategic U.S. assets to the Korean Peninsula. Sources suggested that the assets may include B-52 Stratofortress bombers, and a nuclear-powered submarine currently stationed in Yokosuka, Japan. According to an article published this day (http://theaviationist.com/2015/08/24/us-b-52s-head-to-south-korea/), U.S. B-52s and the stealthy B-2s have already conducted deterrence missions in a show of force against North Korea in the past but they are unlikely to be stationed in South Korea.
As fear of the incoming war has strengthened, the international media tried to assess the ratio of forces among the would-be belligerents. “ The Telegraph” in UK wrote : “South Korea's military has expressed concern at intelligence reports that indicate that more than 50 North Korean submarines have sortied from their bases/…/. The sheer number of vessels that have put to sea means it is impossible to track all of the submarines, officials said, even though the boats are largely outdated and technically obsolescent versions produced in the 1960s for the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, by swamping the South's maritime defences, the North's submarines may be able to land infiltration parties on the coast to carry out attacks behind the front line. Alternatively, they may target warships of the South Korean or US navies. Earlier this year, North Korea released images purportedly showing a ballistic missile being fired from a submerged submarine. Although the images were dismissed at the time as being computer enhanced, there have been concerns that the North's navy is attempting to fit at least one of its submarines with a missile. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/northkorea/11815637/North-Korean-troops-ordered-onto-war-footing-by-Kim-Jong-un-live.html )
Aug.25 : North and South Korea defuse tensions with agreement in which South will turn off propaganda speakers at border and North will stand down from 'semi-war state'; North Korea also expressed “regrets” for the maiming of two soldiers from the South in land-mine explosions; it was agreed also to resume reunions for Korean families who were separated by Korean War (about 70,000 South Koreans, most of them 80 or older, remain on a government waiting list, hoping to meet children or siblings they left in the North before they die). “South and North Korea agreed to hold a government meeting in Seoul or Pyongyang at an early date so that they can have dialogue and negotiations on various issues to improve relations,” said the South representative to the negotiations . South Korea left open the possibility of restarting its loudspeakers if “an abnormal case occurs.” The North Korean government also announced the agreement on Tuesday, which also included boosting exchanges between nongovernmental groups on the two countries. "They both made compromises. South Korea did not get an apology, they got a statement of regret about the injury, which they can spin as an apology," said John Delury of Yonsei University in Seoul. "The more important point is maintaining this channel and reopening the relationship. This is hardly going to be easy to implement, but it’s a landmark agreement which lays out a path."
Below is the text of the concluded agreement ( August 24 ):
1. The North and the South agreed to hold talks between their authorities in Pyongyang or Seoul at an early date to improve north-south ties and to have multi-faceted dialogue and negotiations in the future.
2. The North side expressed regret over the recent mine explosion that occurred in the South side’s area of the Demilitarised Zone along the Military Demarcation Line, wounding soldiers of the southern side.
3. The South side will stop all loudspeaker propaganda broadcasts along the DMZ from 12pm, 25 August unless an abnormal case occurs.
4. The North side will lift the semi-war state at that time.
5. The North and the South agreed to arrange reunions of separated families and relatives from the North and the South on the occasion of the Harvest Moon Day this year and continue to hold such reunions in the future, and to have a Red Cross working contact for it early in September.
6. The North and the South agreed to vitalise NGO exchanges in various fields.
Beyond the above chronology , which almost said everything about this new episode of decades-long crisis between the two peninsular countries of NE Asia- especially that it was in accordance with a traditional libretto of Pyongyang to attract attention or get more money from abroad- there are some characteristics which should be underlined.
Firstly, the tough line adopted by South Korea to the provocative act of the North should be a tradition whenever Pyongyang will try again to apply such kind of bluff. Because it was clearly a trick. It is very difficult to understand why the North is threatening with launching the war in the period in which the South, together with their American allies are in the middle of military exercise, namely prepared and having the troops concentrated in sufficient number to apply a preemptive blow. It is worth remembering what the ROK President told to her staff on August 24, after considering the entire situation, including the prolonged negotiations which began on Saturday, namely: "There is no room to back down/…/ If there is no apology, we will respond accordingly." That offensive attitude brought results as we can see form the reached agreement the same day (note that it was decided to resume the dialogue , stipulation in line with the Seoul’s policy of opening / assistance )
Secondly, what is disquieting is that the agreement which has been concluded after presumably tough negotiations do not say nothing about a crucial issue of the Korean Peninsula: the North nuclear arsenal and the need to address it . Especially after the conclusion of the Iran nuclear deal at the middle of last month, the new episode of a long crisis launched by Pyongyang could be considered as a testing ground for an attempt to resume the negotiations on that issue and to get at least the similar status as Tehran. As it was already observed:” the deal doesn't address the bigger issues on the Korean Peninsula, notably Pyongyang's advancing nuclear program. ’ In the next 10 years, we have the threat of North Korea with a substantial nuclear arsenal -- if we don't figure out a way to deal with them -- and a leader we don't know a lot about,’ commented an expert who was part of U.S. teams that negotiated with North Korea during President Bill Clinton’ term. “
Thirdly, it is a delicate question if Pyongyang had , when it began to prepare specifically the above-detailed provocative act , considered that could count on neighbors as China or Russia, with whom it developed traditional liaisons. Of course, Beijing is worried about the impulsiveness of the inexperienced top leadership in Pyongyang, and the same could be said about Moscow. But at the same time should not be avoided the question what these powers did in order to make the North’s leader to refrain acting in such a way , which in the case of war would have obliged them to fulfill their commitment towards the Communist country or, at least, to tackle with the consequences of war on the Korean Peninsula ( wave of refugees, for example ). As a reader interested in the topic had commented recently: “The last thing China, Russia, Japan, the ROK or the US wants is another war on the Korean peninsula. We have 30,000 servicemen and women as a trip wire over there, and downtown Seoul is within artillery range of the DMZ. If there is war, the NK regime will collapse, and there will be a refugee crisis that will make Syria look like a picnic. Also, I understand that the Kims have taken a few pages from Saddam playbook and cached weapons across the country-after things 'stabilize', we could see an ugly insurgency. That's why the 'neighbors' have spent the last 25 years or so 'kicking the can down the road.' “(Giles Hewitt, S. Korea defiant as North attack deadline looms, August 22, 2015-http://news.yahoo.com/kim-jong-un-orders-n-korea-frontline-troops-230153123.html ).
Last but not least, there is a very interesting question taking into account the timing of that episode of North-South standoff, which I phrase as another interested reader put it in a comment :” Do you think there is a connection to this and the / Chinese/ currency devaluation?“ Of course, in a globalized world, the different events could have unexpected connections, not necessarily on line of cause/effect.
The “lessons learned” from this episode of inter-Korean crisis are of peculiar interest and undoubtedly those interested will assess them in order to answer adequately to new standoffs in the peninsula.
August 26, 2015