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Opinion

Recent Korean artillery attacks concern several nations

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December 9, 2010

With the recent artillery attacks adding on to an impressive list of provocative behavior by the reclusive nation, the question of what will happen on the Korean peninsula is becoming more and more pertinent. Frankly, it is about time that this conflict—one of the last remnants of the cold war—gets resolved. But what will this resolution look like?

Most of the analysis in the aftermath of these events were focused on North Korea: Why is North Korea exhibiting this behavior? Does this mean North Korea is about to collapse? Is this Kim Ill Sung proving himself in front of the military? The problem with these analyses is that North Korea has exhibited static behavior. They are only doing what they have been doing for the past 50 years. We can also dismiss the question of North Korea’s collapse. North Korea will never collapse from internal problems. The government has proven that they are willing to make extremely tough decisions for the sake of their existence.

Time and again they have exhibited aggressive behaviors in order to force other nations to give them aid necessary for their survival. There are also reports that—given a lack of food—the government created a lottery system in order to choose a province which they starved completely so the rest of the nation could have enough food. This type of dedication does not lend itself to simply puttering out.

If one really wants to understand how this conflict will be resolved one must look at South Korea. This is what is really interesting about what has been going on recently. The rhetoric coming out of South Korea is becoming increasingly hostile, which makes sense. They have had to suffer through provocation after provocation which is usually against the South Korean military. This latest strike was against civilian targets, making it extraordinarily intolerable to South Korean’s democratically elected government. I would not be surprised if North Korea’s next provocation is met with military action from South Korea. The South Koreans have basically said as much themselves. Since the latest attack, their defense minister has stepped down and there have been strategic conversations with China about a possible war in the Korean peninsula.

China plays a huge role in this conflict. They are the reason why North Korea exists today. During the Korean War, the United States and South Korea were about to land the finishing blows to the North Korean communists when China—out of fear of a United States invasion—counterattacked. The result was a restoration of the 38th parallel separating the two countries and the uneasy “peace” we have today. There is definitely concern that if a war were to break out between the Koreas that China would take the side of their long time ally, North Korea; however, look at it from the Chinese perspective. China gains nothing from the existence of North Korea except for a rather small market to exploit. Every time North Korea does something aggressive, it reflects poorly upon Beijing and North Korea has a habit of doing aggressive things quite often. China is also plagued by refugees fleeing North Korea and flooding into the southern parts of the country which already has population issues. China, unfortunately, is stuck in their relationship. If China was to remove support from North Korea then North Korea—faced with existential crisis—will likely launch their nuclear arsenal, targeting not only South Korea and Japan, but possibly China as well.

That is a risk China is not willing to take. China stands to gain should the United State or South Korea remove the North Korean regime, which would make it likely that China will refrain from becoming involved in the conflict.

The ideal solution would be North Korea participating in the six party talks, ridding themselves of nuclear weapons, and opening up their economy to foreign trade and investment. This, unfortunately, is not likely to happen. What is likely to happen is that when North Korea provokes South Korea again, South Korea will respond militarily. The United States should aid them in this endeavor, lending not ground troops, but air support, bombing every potential military and nuclear facility in the country. There will be much destruction and there will be collateral damage; however, we cannot let a nuclear warhead detonation over Seoul, Tokyo or Beijing.

The United Nations should then create a peace building coalition between South Korea, China and Japan to help reunify and rebuild the Korean peninsula once and for all. This would give China an opportunity to exercise their regional dominance in a positive manner, working with their neighbors to rid the region with its biggest threat to stability. It would also give the United States an excuse to avoid another costly occupation which would likely not end well. This way, the only “losers” are the North Korean government.

Jason Larson is a student at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.