First, the latest news: South Korea tightens security ahead of drill, November 26, 2010:
South Korea is now on its highest state of alert against further provocations by North Korea ahead of a joint military drill with the United States that is scheduled to start on Sunday.
The military has called back soldiers from vacation to bolster security on Yeonpyong Island, which came under artillery attack by the North on Tuesday. The attack killed 2 soldiers and 2 civilians, wounded at least 18 and destroyed a residential area.
The commander of US forces in South Korea, General Walter Sharp, visited the island on Friday to inspect the extent of the damage. He called the attack an obvious breach of the 1953 armistice that halted the Korean War and stressed that the United States will take a firm line with South Korea if North Korea makes further provocations.
The same question I asked in previous parts, I ask now: what are they going to do about it?
The answer is the same: nothing.
Analysis from Déjà vu all over again with North Korea, by Michael J. Green, November 24, 2010:
The pattern is sickeningly familiar. North Korea reveals (or is caught with) a previously unknown nuclear weapons program (except that the intelligence community had warned it was there all along). The United States and its allies vow that this will only lead to further "isolation" of the North (next the comfy pillow). North Korea pledges to bring all out war to the peninsula and engages in dangerous military escalation. The North then invites some well-meaning Americans to Pyongyang to profess their sincere interest in de-nuclearlizing the Korean peninsula, if only the United States would abandon its "hostile policy." Beijing calls for restraint on all sides and an immediate return to talks. The administration is skeptical, but seeing no other path agrees to return to the talks. An agreement is finally hammered out where the North freezes the least interesting part of its fissile material production (temporarily, of course) in exchange for sanctions relief, heavy fuel oil, aid or other concessions. The North waits, cheats on the agreement, creates another crisis, and continues marching towards its goal of marrying nuclear warheads to ballistic missiles and winning acceptance as a full nuclear weapons state.
....repeat as necessary.
I'm not sure how this latest incident connects to the North's ongoing nuclear weapons program (?), but except for that, the rest of the analysis is right on the money: some kind of problem, the North gets away with something, and the US looks weak by wishing China would do something.
In this context, here are excerptw from War talk, and factory visits, by Donald Kirk, November 25, 2010:
SEOUL - The specter of a powerful American naval force steaming into the Yellow Sea escalates the drama of conflict off the Korean Peninsula to a new level of intensity.
The decision to include the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington in a strike force of five vessels defies not only North Korean threats but also the objections of China into what the Chinese have come to regard as their own sphere of influence.
North Korea has breathed fresh outrage, promising to launch attacks against hostile forces intruding so much as one millimeter into their own waters. It was on that pretext that North Korea on Tuesday fired 170 shells into an island populated mainly by fishermen and farmers living near bases where South Korean marines were operating.
Hours after the barrage, North Korea was boasting of its success in defeating the South, and the sense now is that the North has made its point. North Korean forces may strike again anywhere, on sea and along the 160-mile land border between the two Koreas, taking South Korea and the US by surprise.
Given that strategy, the appearance of USS George Washington in the Yellow Sea is clearly another act in the drama but not a sign of mounting hostilities. The US command covered the announcement in a veneer of verbiage intended to show that the operation was not only "defensive in nature" but "well planned before yesterday's unprovoked attack".
The real problem, however, is that the US and South Korea seem incapable of persuading China to bring enough pressure on North Korea to persuade the North to pull back from a strategy of intermittent violence and intimidation.
The United States has been pleading with China to bring North Korea into line as a prerequisite for any consideration of returning to negotiations.
Neither [US President Barack] Obama nor [South Korea's President] Lee [Myung-bak], however, seems willing to go beyond joint exercises.
Okay, so the response will be posturing.
But, what is North Korea up to?
Back to another excerpt from Déjà vu all over again with North Korea:
Anyway, back to what is really happening. And that is this. Kim Jong Un, the 27-year-old third son of Kim Jong Il (recently promoted to Four Star General) needs to demonstrate that he is willing to go all the way to war (in the worlds of the DPRK's Japanese language website). When Kim Jong Il had his coming out party in the 1980s, he demonstrated his bona fides by directing operations to blow-up the South Korean cabinet in Rangoon and plant a bomb in a Korean Airlines Flight, killing everyone aboard.
That is the first goal. The second goal is to knock the United States and its allies off guard after revealing to former Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Sigfried Hecker that the North had built an advanced uranium enrichment facility in violation of all its prior agreements. Sanctions and pressure? Only if you are prepared to be met with massive firepower. That is the message to the outside world.
Oh! There's the nuclear connection... my mistake.
This round of the North Korean game is more dangerous though, for two reasons. First, Kim Jong Un is on much shakier ground than Kim Jong Il was three decades ago. The fabric of North Korean society and the legitimacy of the regime are much more fragile. It is not clear whether the younger "Great General" or the aging "Dear Leader" will be able to pull back from escalation as easily as they have in the past.
The second reason this is more dangerous is because uranium enrichment opens a new production line of potentially a bomb a year to the North. This is particularly threatening when one considers North Korea's support for Syria's El Kibar reactor construction, which Israel bombed in 2007, and Pyongyang's dialogue with Burma about a similar capability. It is also worrisome since the centrifuge facility shown to Hecker may only be one part of the North Korean uranium enrichment (and probably highly enriched uranium) capability.
Okay, that makes some sense. Here, Green's analysis seems in my opinion to be a little generous toward Obama:
The Obama administration's opening response has been smart. They have not fueled the sense of crisis in a way that would give Pyongyang more leverage, but they have shown resolve by deploying the USS George Washington to the coast of the peninsula.
But, from there, we go back to hoping China will act in the best interests of the US, South Korea, other neighbors (Japan), and world peace in general.
I, for one, am not holding my breath waiting for a communist regime to do that.
If you are following this series, don't just look for Part 4, but watch also for another series entitled "Abode of the Kings". ;)