Monday, March 11, 2013


North Korea’s army has not carried out routine communication checks with US forces for the past three days, as the country steps up angry rhetoric over new UN sanctions and forthcoming military exercises. Pyongyang responded angrily on Friday to a UN Security Council resolution passed the previous day in response to its recent nuclear test. North Korea would judge the armistice agreement that ended the Korean war “totally invalid” from the moment a US-South Korea joint exercise begins on Monday, it said, professing itself ready for war. The statement, issued through state media by the regime’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, also vowed to close the telephone link at Panmunjom, on the border between North and South Korea, which serves as an emergency communication channel. However, that link may already have been out of action for several days, said a spokeswoman for the US forces in South Korea. Since Tuesday North Korean forces have not responded to routine communication checks on the line usually conducted every weekday, she told the FT. The last time that this occurred was between April 6 and May 10 last year, around the time of an unsuccessful satellite launch by Pyongyang. “We have no way of knowing if the [North Korean army] has actually disconnected the phone lines or are just not answering the phone,” the spokeswoman said. North Korea’s apparent abandonment of the communications channel would remove a safeguard intended to reduce the threat of avoidable conflict, although US and South Korean officials stressed that other means of communication remain available. Analysts have responded cautiously to North Korea’s threat to abandon the 1953 armistice, noting that it previously professed to have done so in 2009. “The regime’s threats are consistent with previous North Korean behaviour,” said Bruce Klingner, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation. However, Mr Klingner warned of “a greater risk of miscalculation since new North Korean leader Kim Jong-eun may stumble across red lines that his predecessors would have known not to cross”.... There is no evidence that Pyongyang has the capacity to reach the US with a nuclear-armed missile, and most analysts believe that the regime would not launch a major conflict for fear of being defeated and overthrown. However, it appears to have made significant progress towards long-range nuclear missiles. In December, it used a long-range rocket to put a satellite into space. The nuclear bomb it tested last month yielded a bigger blast than previous tests in 2006 and 2009 – although this is still small by the standards of modern nuclear weapons, and it is not clear that North Korea is able to “miniaturise” a bomb in order to fit it on to a missile.
Simon Mundy, "North Korea steps up rhetoric over sanctions." The Financial Times. 8 March 2013, in
"With North Korea having declared that it will nullify the Korean War armistice agreement when the Key Resolve joint military exercises between the US and South Korea begin on Mar. 11, attention is focusing both in Korea and abroad on what Pyongyang’s next move will be. While the chances of a major military provocation against the South are not considered to be very high, analysts believe it is more likely that we will see provocative behavior taking the form of pressure on the US to come to the negotiating table. On the morning of Mar. 11, North Korea announced that it had gone through with its threat to cut off the Red Cross communication hotline with South Korea. In all, there are three things that North Korea has said it will do starting on Mar. 11. First, it said it would nullify the ceasefire agreement, but this does not look easy. This is because Clause 61 of the agreement states that any amendments to the ceasefire must be agreed to by the commanders of both sides in the hostilities. In addition, Clause 62 provides that the ceasefire shall remain in effect until it is replaced by a peace agreement between both sides. As a consequence, if North Korea is to nullify the agreement, it requires the agreement both of China, its ally in the war, and the UN (led by the US), its opponent in the war. In addition, the ceasefire agreement cannot be nullified until a peace treaty is signed with the US and takes effect. To summarize the positions expressed by James Sherman, commander of UN military forces, and the Chinese foreign ministry, right now, the chances that the ceasefire will be nullified and a peace treaty signed are virtually nil. In addition, Pyongyang’s unilateral declaration to stop all activity and cut off the military hotline at Panmunjeom between the DPRK and US located there will have just as little effect. Back in Mar. 1991, North Korea announced that it would not participate in the military armistice commission in retaliation for a Korean general being appointed as the chief delegate for the UN forces. However, starting in 1998, general-level talks between the UN and DPRK forces, which replaced the armistice commission, were held 16 times. Furthermore, while the UN-North Korea military hotline at Panmunjeom was cut on Mar. 5 and the hotline between the North and South Korean government was severed on Mar. 8, the six phone lines in the military situation room in the area jointly managed by North and South, which are used for administration of the Kaeseong Industrial Complex, remain in operation. It appears that North Korea is fully aware that completely cutting off all phone communication would lead to its isolation.... "We are viewing this declaration as a gesture for dialogue. North Korea is trying to improve its relations with the US as it gains recognition as a nuclear-armed state with long-range missiles,” explained a Ministry of Defense official. “In the past, India and Pakistan normalized relations with the US after acquiring nuclear weapons.” Of course, it is not impossible that North Korea will make some kind of low-intensity military provocation. For example, it could launch one of its short-range 120km KN-02 missiles into its territorial waters. It was recently reported that North Korea has set up a no-sailing zone in its territorial waters in the West and East Seas, and the Ministry of Defense is viewing this as one reason to suspect the possibility of a missile launch.
Kim Kyu-won, "As US-SK military exercises begin, world is watching the Korean peninsula." The Hankyoreh 11 March 2013, in www.
"Korea does not really matter. I'd never heard of the bloody place till I was seventy-four."
Sir Winston Churchill quoted on the 5th July 1953, in Churchill: Taken from the diaries of Lord Moran. (1966), p. 451.
The tensions that the violent and indeed almost demonic statements coming from the North Korean regime, belie the fact that the regime in Pyongyang has rarely indulged in activity which would surely result in an immediate and violent retaliation by its enemies. The fact of the matter is that North Korea is quite happy to engage in stunts, of a violent nature, as long as it is assured that no reaction will result. Obviously, any attack on either US forces or at present, Korean forces would be allowed to go unpunished. This is something which is well understood by both the current regime in Pyongyang and more importantly its Chinese backers in Peking. And in a nutshell the standoff between Washington and Pyongyang will continue, until the latter's patron, the PRC decides to cut-off North Korea's economic and political life-line. Then and only then will the tensions on the Korean peninsula diminish and finally disappear. And for very good geopolitical reasons, the authorities in Peking see absolutely no reason to end the existing state of tensions. As it was recently pointed out in the Financial Times:
"Chinese diplomats last week rejected almost angrily suggestions of a US-China deal on a draft resolution. Chinese foreign policy experts fret that taking too hard a line against North Korea, or being seen as openly siding with Washington, could trigger either more bellicose acts from Pyongyang or even the regime’s collapse – both scenarios which Beijing views as worse than the status quo"1.
Unless and until the PRC sees that its interest lie more in the pacification of the Korean peninsula, which effectively means the collapse of the North Korean regime and the unification of the peninsula, then the current tensions in the Korean peninsula will continue apace. Sanctions or no sanctions, since sans Peking's rigorous enforcement, a sanctions regime will simply not work. Pur et simple.
1. Kathrin Hille, "China adjusts approach to North Korea." The Financial Times. 10 March 2013, in


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