Another example of North Korea’s bluff strategy is currently playing out on the Korean peninsula. North Korea’s young leader Kim Jong-un has ordered North Korea’s troops to be on a war footing as tensions with South Korea escalate. The North Korean press reported that: “The Korean People’s Army (KPA) front-line large combined units entered into a wartime state all at once, fully armed to launch surprise operations, and wound up their preparedness for action.”
The current tensions began early this month when two South Korean soldiers were wounded by landmines along the border. The North denies laying the mines. Days later, Seoul began its propaganda broadcasts in random three-hour bursts from 11 banks of loudspeakers, including news reports and K-pop music from the South, resuming a tactic both sides halted in 2004. North Korea issued an ultimatum to cease using the speakers for propaganda against the north. Kim Jong-un went so far as to issue a time ultimatum, which has now passed and South Korean government officials have said that the broadcasts with not cease, causing some to believe that an outbreak of fighting is possible. We now wait to see if Kim Jong-un will make good on his threat to launch an attack.
What North Korea is the best at is bluffing. Technically, North and South Korea have been at war for the past 65 years, as the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended with a ceasefire that was never ratified by a formal peace treaty. Kim has given similarly bellicose orders in the past, most recently in 2013 when he declared “a state of war” with the South, although no clashes resulted, AFP reports.
As part of the ongoing “bluff” South Korean government officials are claiming that North Korea is showing signs of preparing Scud missiles. A source is reported to have told the Yonhap news agency: “The North is showing signs of deploying a Scud missile near Wonsan and a Rodong missile in the North Pyeongan Province. It seems that [the North] is weighing the timing of the firing under its strategic intention to increase military tension on the Korean Peninsula to the highest level.” The North is also reported to have deployed 50 submarines.
Following a land mine issue last week, the escalation of threats increased including the exchange of artillery rounds. North Korea on Thursday afternoon first fired a single round believed to be from an anti-aircraft gun, which landed near a South Korean border town. About 20 minutes later, three North Korean artillery shells fell on the southern side of the Demilitarized Zone. South Korea is reported to have responded by firing dozens of 155-milimeter artillery rounds.
Most amateur strategists believe that because North Korea’s bloated armed forces outnumber those of the south by a large margin that it might “win” in an all-out conflict because when it comes to soldiers and artillery pieces, North Korea enjoys a two-to-one advantage .Yet an abundance of light infantry with AK -47 automatic weapons does not necessarily translate into military dominance. North Korea’s armed forces might be immense, but their weapons and equipment are largely obsolete. The critical advantage for the north is the proximity of Seoul to the DMZ. Seoul is within range of many of the north’s long range artillery and missile systems. This is a critical vulnerability.
On the other hand South Korea’s much smaller armed forces have worked to maintain a modern force. They have relied upon American-supplied weapons and equipment, including more than 2,000 tanks and hundreds of F5, F15 and F16 fighter jets and fighter bombers. More importantly, it nestles under the US security umbrella, and there are 28,500 American troops permanently based in the South, which are reportedly mobilizing and moving to wartime positions. There have not been any notifications of reinforcements coming from the United States to meet the threat. (Are the South Koreans worried about the willingness of the US to meet its security agreements like other allies?) (Does this lack of reaction (and press coverage) indicate that Washington feels that this is just another bluff?)
How will this current escalation of words play out? The South is taking no chances and Washington seems to not be worried. The next week or so will tell.
North and South Korean officials met yesterday at the “truce village” inside the Demilitarized Zone to discuss the August rise in tensions and the current military standoff between the two countries. No details have emerged from the meeting and the media has not been allowed to cover the talks. North Korea asked for the meeting. The question is what will the North be willing to give up to cancel the propaganda broadcasts?