Tensions are heightening again on the Korean Peninsula as North Korea ratchets up war threats in protest against the annual U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises and imminent new U.N. Security Council sanctions for its nuclear test on Feb. 12.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Command of the North Korean People’s Army declared in a statement that the armistice agreement that ended the 1950-53 Korean War would be invalid from March 11.
The statement, read by Kim Yong-chol, a hard-line general suspected of having engineered a series of provocations against the South, added that North Korea, no longer constrained by the cease-fire agreement, would strike “any target any time” without restrictions.
The North’s military also said it would cut off the telephone link between North Korea and the U.S.-led United Nations Command and suspend all activities at the truce village of Panmunjeom.
The North’s latest threat was a response to the two-month-long Foal Eagle field training exercise launched by Seoul and Washington last week and the two-week Key Resolve joint war game that starts March 11.
These drills, however, are defensive in nature, and Seoul and Washington have notified Pyongyang of their exercise schedule in advance.
While stepping up war rhetoric, the North is to start its own large-scale drills across the nation next week, including a firearms drill near the southeastern city of Wonsan. Its submarines have already started maneuvers in both the East and West Seas, according to reports.
The North’s latest saber rattling is also a signal that it will not tolerate the toughened UNSC sanctions against its recent nuclear test. As usual, it may resort to intimidation tactics, whereby it first escalates tension by staging fresh provocations and then proposes talks to get what it wants.
Yet such old tactics will not work anymore. If Pyongyang thinks it can put pressure on Seoul and Washington through provocation, it is totally mistaken. The two allies will not be intimidated.
Rather they will sternly retaliate against any North Korean aggression. The South’s military warned that should the North provoke the nation again, it will strike not just the origin of the provocation and its supporting forces but the North Korean leadership itself.
Pyongyang’s leaders should also realize that if they commit the folly of conducting another nuclear test or firing long-range missiles, it will only accelerate the collapse of their regime.
The North’s young leader Kim Jong-un recently expressed, via retired U.S. professional basketball player Dennis Rodman, his desire to have talks with U.S. President Barack Obama.
Yet if Pyongyang wants talks with Washington for whatever purposes, it should first accept the UNSC sanctions and show its willingness to meet the obligations imposed on it by international society.
If Pyongyang refrains from throwing tantrums and exercises self-restraint, it could expect a thaw in inter-Korean relations as President Park Geun-hye is seeking to activate a confidence-building process with the North.
Park’s open stance offers Pyongyang a rare chance to get out of isolation and poverty. In this regard, it needs to move toward creating an environment where Park can pursue trustpolitik.
Since its third nuclear test, the North’s isolation has deepened. Even China, its only ally in the world, is not as supportive as before. It is no use denouncing China for endorsing the UNSC sanctions. Chinese leaders have belatedly realized the danger of having a nuclear-armed neighbor.
Under these circumstances, Pyongyang has no choice but to mend ties with Seoul. For it, the path to Washington runs through Seoul. Therefore it should first endeavor to improve relations with Seoul to initiate talks with Washington.