Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Why Did The DPRK Shell Yeonpyeong Island?

B.R Myers responds to this blogpost here.

In what is being touted the worst provocation on the Korean peninsula since the Korean War Armistice, the North Korean military have shelled Yeonpyeong Island including civilian areas.

Why have they done this?

Here are three possible theories (edited with updates and links):

a) The one I favour is an extrapolation of B.R Myers' idea that the North Korean regime can only retain legitimacy if its future ruler Kim Jong Un is given some military credentials to go with his rank of four-star general. If this is the case, then confirmation could come with some praise of the military action under his name. In which case, watch this space. Myers himself hasn't ventured a motive yet.

b) Andrei Lankov appears to believe this is an attempt to gain attention from the US. Others think it is an attempt to extort more food aid from South Korea given that it doesn't have enough to last the winter. This also seems like a reasonable possibility to me.

c) Selig Harrison seems to be going with his default belief that there are hardliners at work trying to scupper the recent brief thaw between the two Koreas:

The armed forces hawks don't like what they are seeing, and what they have done is a classic ploy in situations like this to stir things up and undermine the doves

And which doves is he referring to? Kim Jong-il?

According to this New York Times article, Lee Sung-yoon, a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School at Tufts University, disagrees with Harrison and instead agrees with me!

“There is no ‘rogue elements’ theory applicable here,” Mr. Lee said. “This is how North Korea approaches negotiations — not through the conventions of diplomatic courtesy but through raising the stakes through provocations. It’s been a potent formula, this provocation-negotiation-concession schema.”


Mr. Lee and other North Korea analysts said the clash on Tuesday was likely intended to bolster the political standing and military credentials of the son. The North would likely claim, he said, that “this is how the young general showed his mettle.”

We'll just have to wait and see...

Of course, I also expect that some conspiraloon is going to wheel out the tired and tested holler of "false flag!" as if the North's sinking of the Cheonan (or previous "false flag" according to the same loons) wasn't enough of a cassus belli.

Update: Two civilians were also among the dead.


Roderick Russell said...

Why have they done this?

Nobody knows what really caused ww1! Historians still argue about it. Some believe that a contributing cause was that certain Elites were in decline within their own countries, and thought a victorious foreign war would re-establish their countries’ unity behind them. Such feelings were common amongst Monarchists / Aristocrats and the Secret Police within Russia who felt that the Tsar’s meagre reforms had gone too far, and that in Germany there were Prussian Junkers with similar views. They believed that a foreign war would unite the public behind their leadership.

So why have they done this? Is it possible that faction disputes within the North Korean leadership are what make it so belligerent? One shouldn’t imagine that the losing faction in such a dispute would look forward to an easy retirement; in which case they might be prepared to go quite far. One hopes that Japan, China and South Korea have some degree of common cause in case they blunder into something that nobody wants.

angrysoba said...

Nobody knows what really caused ww1! Historians still argue about it.

Yes, but that doesn't mean it is unknowable and that doesn't mean there wasn't a reason or a cause for this attack.

It could be that the North have a policy of creating these acts of aggression to extort concessions. Or it could be that it has to justify its Songun policy (the DPRK equivalent of the military-industrial complex) by repeated skirmishes with South Korea. Somehow these things may be debated within the regime and if so they can be discovered. I don't think the question need be dismissed as if I were asking how many angels can dance on the end of a pin. (In fact, that goes for who started World War One and why. Incidentally, Niall Ferguson goes through a number of possibilities in his War of the World and dismisses a number of them. I'm not too up-to-date on which are the most popular theories for that these days so can't remember which ones he rejects or adopts).

Is it possible that faction disputes within the North Korean leadership are what make it so belligerent?

It's possible. But here's the thing. The state Korean Central News Agency has reported it. Initially, it was a communique from the Korean People's Army, but the Foreign Minister of the DPRK has now made a similar statement that all attempts to make incursions into what it sees as its territorial waters would be met with aggression. This, to me, suggests ownership by the regime itelf rather than some radical elements within it.

Besides, Kim Jong-il seems to have been personally implicated in many of the previous acts of aggression such as the bombing of a South Korean airliner in 1987 so it doesn't appear that he is a "dove".