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Posted on Dec 17, 2010 in Stuff We Like

Korean Crisis: Ratcheting Up The Chances For A New War

By John Antal

Houses on South Korea's Yeonpyeong Island burn from shells fired by North Korean Artillery on November 23, 2010. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

In 1914, a series of events in the Balkans ignited a chain of events that led the European powers to World War I. Today, Korea is a similar tinderbox waiting for a flash to ignite the blaze. Recent events in Korea have rekindled the flames of the bitter conflict between North and South Korea, visibly demonstrating that this 60-year-old conflict is still highly combustible. Since the armistice was signed on July 27, 1953 that ended the Korean War, the North Koreans have launched numerous military clashes, acts of sabotage, assassinations, kidnappings and terrorist attacks against the Republic of Korea (ROK) and U.S. and United Nations forces serving in South Korea.


The sparks that flew in 2010 have already caused casualties. On January 27, 2010, North Korea fired artillery shells into the water near Baengnyeong Island, close to the Northern Limit Line (NLL). South Korean vessels returned fire, but no casualties were reported. On March 26, 2010, the Cheonan, a Republic of Korea Navy Pohang-class corvette was sunk by a torpedo launched by a North Korean Yeono class miniature submarine. The Cheonan sank in frigid, 45-meter deep waters and 46 members of her 104-man crew were killed. A third incident happened on November 23, 2010 when North Korean artillery bombarded South Korean military facilities and civilian homes on Yeonpyeong Island. The island has a South Korean military base and a civilian population of 1,300. Yeonpyeong is just 12 miles off the North Korean coast and within the range of communist artillery. The North Korean assault killed two ROK Marines and two civilians, wounded another 19 civilians, and caused damage to numerous homes and buildings.

The incident on November 23, 2010 occurred south of the Northern Limit Line and was a clear provocation by North Korea. (Armchair General) In both incidents the ROK has shown amazing and commendable restraint. No major counterattack was launched by the ROK for the sinking of the Cheonan and the killing of their 46 sailors. Artillery counter-battery fires were launched against North Korean artillery positions for the November 23 bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island, but the effects of this ROK artillery fire were largely symbolic. Since these attacks, the ROK has raised its military readiness levels but primarily responded with diplomacy. In a display of support, the US Navy’s nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington sailed from Japan to the Yellow Sea to demonstrate "the strength of the Republic of Korea-US alliance and [ROK-US] commitment to regional stability through deterrence."

North and South Korea have formidable forces facing each other across a narrow 250 kilometer Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). They face each other at sea along a United Nations demarcation line in the water called the NLL. North Korea is the most militarized country in the world with about 1.2 million armed personnel, about 3,000 main battle tanks (primarily ancient T-62 and T-55 designs), and thousands of artillery guns and rocket launchers. These forces are formed into 20 army corps with associated supporting units and a reserve force of 8.2 million men. Most of the North Korean artillery and rocket forces are positioned in hardened artillery sites, dug deep into the mountains. Most of these guns and rockets are in range of South Korea’s major population centers.

China, with its powerful regional land, sea and air forces, supports North Korea, but only key leaders in China and North Korea know how far the Chinese are willing to support their unruly North Korean brothers. Most Asian experts believe that China holds back North Korean adventurism, but there are serious questions about the degree of control China has over North Korea.

Against this massive North Korean force, South Korea has nearly 650,000 troops and a reserve force of 3 million, but holds the advantage in modern equipment, better training and prepared defenses. The ROK is not only allied with the United States, but also the United Nations Command. The US has about 28,000 troops in the ROK. The UN Command has no combat forces in the ROK, but the treaty obligates 16 signatory nations to defend the ROK in case of a North Korean Attack. The UN Command consists of the US, the ROK, Canada, Britain, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Greece, Turkey, Luxembourg, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Thailand, Columbia, and South Africa (South Africa was reinstated on November 23, 2010).

There are many possible futures for North Korea – war; disintegration and implosion; or a gradual peaceful integration with the South – but the North Koreans seem bent on brinkmanship. Because of dominant the economic and military position of the South, the North Koreans have focused on numerous asymmetric strategies against the Republic of Korea and the United States to advance North Korean interests. The North Koreans know that if they force a direct conflict with the U.S. and the South, they could cause great havoc and inflict many deaths upon the ROK for a short while, but ultimately North Korea would be destroyed.

With North Korea’s economy in crisis, its leadership in transition, its military armed to the teeth and its scientists working hard to develop nuclear weapons, the probability of new and terrible war in Korea is high. The actions of North Korea in 2010 were an attempt by the rogue regime to “level the playing field” and show heir prowess in a time of internal political struggle and turmoil. Most Asia experts believe that the North is acting out of desperation and that the communist regime is ultimately concerned only with the survival of the ruling elite. This elite continues in power by blackmailing South Korea, the United States and the West, executing incidents and threatening war, in exchange for food, fuel and money.

But what if these clashes get out of hand? What if, once started, events take on a power of their own? This is why the situation is so dangerous. Communist North Korea has brought the world to the brink of war too many times. The next time, they may miscalculate. The next time, they may trigger a series of events that no one can back away from. The clock is ticking.

John Antal has written numerous articles and a book on the possibilities of a new war in Korea. He served nearly seven years in the Republic of Korea; in senior positions in the United Nations Command and commanding US combat forces near the DMZ from 1994-1996.


  1. This piece is written in a very subjective manner which is a pitty and harms the otherwise solid content.

  2. Another Korean war is the best thing that could happen to America! S. Korea’s industrial capacity what be demolished, & since they’re a major player in the world export market, that would leave a huge demand gap that U.S. industry could easily fill. Can you say good-bye recession?

    If the North decides go nuclear, we’d render their country uninhabitable until the sun explodes. End of problem!

    • Yeah right…..we can tell that none of YOUR relatives are in S Korea!

      • I think we need not take Sara’s comments to seriously, my friend. It seems someone is actually performing quite well as a Sara[b]h[/b] Palin double. We should only state that what is said is well in line with what Sarah would say.


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