Kim’s Sister Is on the Warpath
SEOUL - The new surge in North Korean military action over the north-south line shows the weakness of the US and South Korea given the surprises the north is planning next.
US President Donald Trump has shown more interest in squeezing Seoul for money to hold American troops in South Korea than to resist the increasingly aggressive North Korean efforts to scare the south.
As if the demolition of a modern multi-story North-South liaison office wasn't dramatic enough, North Korea increased its rhetorical commitment on Thursday and vowed that "the explosive sound of justice" would "go far beyond the imagination of those who make noise what could unfold. "This explosion in the liaison office," said Rodong Sinmun, governing body of the North, was "just the beginning."
The paper warned "the military's announcement to consider a detailed military action plan should be taken seriously." This is amid South Korean reports of North Korean troops entering the former Kaesong industrial complex, where the liaison office is located.
Previously, the General Staff of the North Korean People's Army had announced that it would be deploying troops both in the Kaesong zone, just 40 miles north of Seoul, and in the abandoned Mount Kumgang tourism zone on the east coast above the demilitarized zone (DMZ) that separated the north command and south since 1953.
The North Korean troops would be the avant-garde of considerable forces positioned closely behind them. Approximately three quarters of the 1.2 million soldiers in the north are said to be within 100 miles of the DMZ, with large units stationed closer. North Korea also has thousands of artillery pieces hidden far outside the DMZ, including long-range cannons that can reach Seoul.
From positions along the entire DMZ, North Korean forces could launch sudden ground attacks on South Korean troops across the board and also open fire with artillery within range of Seoul, not to mention missiles that can reach targets deep in the south, including a tall American Base.
Does Trump know how scary things are going to be in Korea?
Kim Jong Un's younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, signaled these opportunities when she accused South Korea's President Moon Jae-in of "shamelessness and insolence." His offense, in a language she despised, indicated that ambassadors would discuss things after the north had dashed the moon's hopes of reconciliation in the lumps of the liaison office.
Kim Yo Jong led the Pyongyang rhetorical barrage as it did during the current crisis, addressing the symbolic problem of the North Korean defectors who floated propaganda-laden balloons back to the country from which they had escaped. Moon should have apologized and shown "remorse" along with a "firm promise to prevent the recurrence of similar events," said Kim Yo Jong. However, it implied that her anger was caused by much deeper problems, including the South's failure to sanction the United States and the United Nations over sanctions against the North.
"Now they are trying to shift responsibility for the results of their own work to us," she said. "This is literally a brazen and absurd act."
The real fear is that behind the bold words is a plan to stage incidents shortly before a frontal attack on the south. This was implicit in the occupation of the Kaesong complex, located next to the Panmunjom armistice village where Moon and Kim signed a comprehensive reconciliation agreement in April 2018, and U.S. President Donald Trump had a short photo meeting with Kim last year organized.
The language of the North Korean announcement not only threatened a symbolic expression of strength. "Units of the regiment and necessary firepower subunits with a defense mission will be deployed in the Mount Kumgang tourist area and in the Kaesong industrial zone," it said. A southern agreement in the military area is again concluded to strengthen the guard over the front. "
US and South Korea troops have undoubtedly been able to respond to "provocations" across the board, but the danger is that North Korea would then relieve its long-range artillery and eventually the ballistic missiles it has in its inventory.
"The real problem is what happens when it escalates?" says retired Lt. Gen. Chun In-bum. In the chaos of death and destruction, he says: "It doesn't matter who wins."
Chun is currently confident that South Korean and U.S. forces can undertake North Korean forays along the DMZ and also in the Yellow Sea, where North Korea has repeatedly challenged South Korean warships over the years. "We are pretty good at dealing with local provocations," said Chun, former commander of the South Korean special forces, but the tone of North Korean rhetoric, in addition to destroying the liaison office, is worrying.
"You can move forces toward the ceasefire line," says Kim Tae-woo, a professor of military science who previously analyzed North Korean steps for the Korea Institute for Defense Analyzes. "But when they really attack, the situation takes on a new dimension."
Trump's uncertain outlook on Korea is just as worrying as North Korea's strategy. "Trump will stay away from Korea," predicts Kim Tae-woo. "He won't intervene in battles far from his own country."
A spokesman for President Moon, a politically liberal politician who has pursued a very soft political line towards the north, said flatly: “We will no longer tolerate North Korea's indiscreet rhetoric and actions that have fundamentally affected the mutual trust of government leaders so far have built two sides. "
The bitter repetition was somewhat surprising to some observers because Moon tried to respond with mild requests to build on attempts at reconciliation and dialogue.
After the South Korean news agency Pyongyang had already described South Korea as an "enemy", it returned to the language of an earlier era in North-South relations. In a comment, KCNA warned against "setting fire to Seoul" - a popular expression of North Korean propaganda a quarter of a century ago.
Moon "reacted more sharply than ever," said Steve Tharp, who served as a young officer in an infantry unit south of the DMZ when North Korea emitted the same war threats.
However, Tharp did not believe that US and South Korean troops would be ineffective against a North Korean surprise attack. "They train for that every day," he said. Despite a "slight deterioration" caused by Trump's cancellation of large-scale annual joint military exercises by South Korean and US troops, "they are always prepared."
One can imagine how the Trump administration will deal with the current crisis, particularly with regard to South Korean payments to U.S. troops, which have been a major deterrent for seven decades since North Korean forces invaded the South on June 25, 1950 . It's also not clear how willing Moon is to mobilize South Koreans to defend against the north after making reconciliation a core part of its policy.
In the event of a real North Korean "provocation" across the DMZ, there is concern that Trump would continue to worry about reducing the US armed forces and getting them out of the way. While he could boast of all the money saved, South Korea would have to defend itself against a force armed with nuclear warheads and missiles to send to almost anywhere.
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