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South Korea - Apologise To North Korea

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Chris Ford
Chris Ford

South Korea has some apologising to do to North Korea.

I realise that earlier this week North Korean artillery shelled the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong. There is no disputing that. It was a terrifying event for the civilians living there. It also marked the most serious incident since the Korean Armistice in 1953.

But the question should be asked - who precipitated these events? South Korea has acknowledged that it fired the first shots as part of a military exercise. The South Koreans, along with their US allies, were engaging in regular military exercises in the area when the incident occurred. Furthermore, North Korea sent a message to South Korea asking as to whether the military exercise constituted an attack on its territory and to cease the exercise at once. More importantly, the North sent a clear warning in the message that it would attack the South if matters were not clarified. This message went unreplied to. Consequently, the North carried out its threat . Therefore, the South Korean and US militaries should have known better than to conduct military exercises in a sensitive area and using live ammunition at that. This action has been the equivalent of waving a red rag to a bull. What were the South Koreans and the Americans thinking? Did they seriously believe that Kim Jong Il's forces wouldn't respond at some stage?

In recent days, the usual commentary about Kim Jong Il precipitating another crisis in order to extract concessions has been made. But this misses the point. It is well known that the Kim regime in the North is a Stalinist redoubt. Anyone with a reasonable knowledge of socialist history should realise that the state's founder, Kim Il Sung, practically learnt his politics at the feet of the late Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. A large part of Stalin's personality was paranoic and the elder Kim picked up this trait. Thus, when the elder Kim was installed as the North's ruler in 1948, he instituted a Stalinist style regime complete with a full cult of personality. 

Given these factors, it's little wonder that the Kim family haven't been keen about relaxing their grip on power. After the US attack on Iraq in 2003, Kim Jong Il became noticably concerned that the US would launch a similar war aimed at toppling him. Having noted the ultimate fate of the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein (who was executed in 2006), Kim is in no hurry to go out the same way. That's why the North intensified its efforts to acquire nuclear weapons during the early 2000s and appears poised to expand that arsenal. It should be clear that Kim Jong Il is doing everything with an eye to securing the regime's survival past his death. Kim's recent decision to anoint his third son Kim Jong Un as his successor shows how determined he is in this regard.

So the question should be asked as to why would Kim Jong Il risk triggering a war that would ultimately annihilate his regime? This would be the case as recent war game scenarios hold that after a protracted and bloody conflict, the South Koreans and their US-led allies would triumph. China clearly doesn't want this outcome as it favours the status quo of retaining North Korea as a buffer state to counteract the influence that the US exercises in the South. If the North Korean regime collapsed, then the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist regime could also be questioned. Besides, neither China (or South Korea for that matter) want to meet the potentially horrendous cost of hosting millions of refugees.

Ultimately, South Korea as the country that fired the first shots should apologise. This should be one of the key elements of any moves to resolve the current Korean crisis. From there, both North and South Korea should engage in confidence building measures such as an agreement to not conduct military exercises within 30 kilometres either side of the Demilitarized Zone and to pre-notify one another of any future exercises. Both sides should also agree to withdraw their military forces behind those new limits. Also the six party talks should be unconditionally reinstated and seperate talks between the US and North Korea commenced without preconditions.

If these things are done then there is every chance that Kim Jong Il will come to the party. It's now up to South Korea to do the right thing and make the first move.



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