Tensions remain elevated on the Korean peninsula Monday as worries grow among some that continued US provocations are making chances of a violent outbreak more likely as its military continues a series of training exercises with their South Korean allies.
As leaders in Seoul and Pyongyang exchange barbs and issue threats, foreign policy expert Eric Margolis argues the situation demands the deployment of more "diplomats" and less "air force generals" so that tensions can be eased before what he called a "largely manufactured crisis" spirals out of control.
As Agence France-Presse reports:
By publicly highlighting its recent deployment of nuclear-capable B-52 and stealth bombers over South Korea, Washington has, at times, almost appeared to be purposefully goading an already apoplectic Pyongyang.
"There certainly seems to be an element of 'let's show we're taking the gloves off this time' about the US stance," said Paul Carroll, program director at the Ploughshares Fund, a US-based security policy think-tank.
And the North has responded in kind, declaring on Saturday that it was now in a "state of war" with South Korea.
Security crises on the Korean peninsula have come and gone over the decades and have tended to follow a similar pattern of white-knuckle brinkmanship that threatens but finally pulls back from catastrophic conflict.
And Margolis writes:
"The US would be wise to back off from this confrontation and lower tensions with North Korea. America’s empty Treasury can’t afford yet another war, having already blown $2 trillion on the lost wars in Afghanistan and Iraq." - Eric Margolis
The US has become accustomed to waging war against small nations whose ‘threat’ has been wildly overblown: Grenada, Somalia, Iraq, Libya. The last real war fought by the US, against Vietnam, was an epic defeat for American arms. North Korea is not an Iraq or Libya.
North Korea’s air force and navy would be quickly destroyed by US and South Korean air power within days of war. But taking on North Korea’s hard as nails army will be a serious challenge if it fights on the defensive. Pentagon studies show that invading North Korea could cost the US up to 250,000 casualties. So the US would be clearly tempted to use tactical nuclear weapons. But North Korea vows to nuke Japan if the US goes nuclear. And there is the threat of Chinese intervention.
The US would be wise to back off from this confrontation and lower tensions with North Korea. America’s empty Treasury can’t afford yet another war, having already blown $2 trillion on the lost wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. America’s armed forces, bogged down in the Mideast and Afghanistan, are in no shape to fight a real war in Korea. Just moving heavy armor and guns there would take months.
On Sunday, the US sent a team of F-22 stealth fighter jets to the region as part of the ongoing war games and strong language from South Korean President Park Geun-hye warned North Korea against further threats of war.
"If there is any provocation against South Korea and its people, there should be a strong response in initial combat, regardless of the political considerations," Park said Monday.
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North Korea says the region is on the brink of a nuclear war in the wake of United Nations sanctions imposed for its February nuclear test and a series of joint U.S. and South Korean military drills that have included a rare U.S. show of aerial power.
The North, whose economy is smaller than it was 20 years ago, appeared to move on Monday to addressing its pressing need for investment by appointing a reformer to the country's ceremonial prime minister's job, although the move mostly cemented a power grab by the ruling Kim clan.
North Korea had said on Saturday it was entering a "state of war" with South Korea in response to what it termed the "hostile" military drills being staged in the South. But there have been no signs of unusual activity in the North's military to suggest an imminent aggression, a South Korean defense ministry official said last week.
South Korean President Park Geun-Hye has vowed "strong retaliation" to any provocation by North Korea.
In a meeting with senior military officials and Defence Minister Kim Kwan-Jin, Park said she took the near-daily stream of bellicose threats emanating from the North "very seriously".
And The Guardian's Justin McCurry reports from Seoul:
While threats of a nuclear strike or other major attacks are being dismissed as bluster, the possibility of a more localised conflict is a growing concern.
In November 2010, the North shelled Yeonpyeong, a South Korean island near the countries' disputed Yellow Sea border, killing two civilians and two soldiers. Earlier the same year, a torpedo attack blamed on the North sank a South Korean naval ship, killing 46 sailors.
Seoul did not take action, but promised fierce retaliation if attacked again, raising fears that a naval clash or isolated shelling in the coming days or weeks could quickly spiral out of control.
Scott Snyder, a senior fellow for Korea studies with the US Council on Foreign Relations thinktank, said the US should now help Kim Jong-un find a way to lower the diplomatic temperature. "There is a need for the US and South Korea to offer some clear diplomatic gestures of reassurance toward the North that can help the North Koreans climb down, calm down and change course," Snyder told AFP.