Breaking: North Korea attacks South Korea

posted at 9:15 am on November 23, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

The 60-year old war on the Korean peninsula flared back to life today, perhaps briefly, or perhaps not.  North Korea showered artillery fire on an island in the south, killing two South Korea Marines and prompting a return volley of fire.  Seoul put its armed forces on alert while everyone waits to see whether Pyongyang has decided to restart the Korean War:

North Korea launched a massive artillery barrage on a South Korean island Tuesday, killing two South Korean marines, wounding at least 14 others and setting more than 60 buildings ablaze in the most serious confrontation since the North’s sinking of a South Korean submarine in March.

South Korea immediately responded with its own artillery barrage and put its fighter jets on high alert, bringing the two sides – which technically have remained in a state of war since the Korean armistice in 1953 – close to the brink of a major conflagration.

South Korea called the shelling of the civilian-inhabited island of Yeonpyeong, which lies near the disputed maritime border separating North and South Korea, a breach of the 57-year-old armistice that halted the Korean War without a peace agreement.

The North fired an estimated 200 artillery shells onto the island, and the South returned fire with about 80 shells from its own howitzers. The attack began just after 2:30 p.m.

More than likely, Kim Jong-Il has three goals in mind:

  • Attention – The six-party talks have stalled for a while.  With their recent disclosure of a new uranium-enrichment facility, this is probably sword-rattling to focus attention on Pyongyang and to get its enemies to cough up more concessions.
  • Test – Kim has tested the mettle of every American President to determine how committed each is to South Korea’s security.  Last year’s provocative missile launches showed that Barack Obama wasn’t committed at all to missile defense, and the sinking of a South Korean ship a few months ago didn’t prompt much more than finger-wagging from Washington.  Nor did we do much after seizing a ship exporting banned arms to Burma.
  • Succession – Kim is very ill, and he needs to secure the succession to the third generation of his family.  It will be difficult for any opponents in the military to suppress his son while he has them busy in a Great Patriotic War.  It will be especially difficult if this attack nets the DPRK tangible concessions in negotiations with the US and Japan.

So far, the response has been predictable.  China, Kim’s closest ally, has called for a return to the six-party talks — even though the revelation of the new uranium-enrichment facility violates all of the agreements Kim made in that process.  If it’s a temper tantrum, it’s getting the desired result, at least for the moment.

Addendum: This incident also shows the anachronistic priorities of the Obama administration on foreign policy and international security.  Obama has pressed the Senate for immediate action on a new START treaty, whose predecessor aimed at ending an arms race with a country that literally no longer exists and an enemy that has since stopped being an acute military threat to the US.  Meanwhile, the nuclear crises in North Korea and Iran continue apace, with no sense of urgency by this administration except when provocations like this occur.

Update: Note to the Washington Post: The ship that North Korea sank was a surface ship, not a submarine.  A North Korean submarine likely fired the torpedoes that sunk the Cheonan.


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Indeed (assuming for the sake of argument they don’t lack for ammunition at this point and haven’t stripped the batteries down – it would be difficult to get them back into place were this the case given the DPRK’s fuel shortages).

They have lots of ammunition. North Korea doesn’t lack for weapons or munitions. It is the civilians who go without there.

On the other hand consider the counter-battery capacity of the ROK and the plausible vulnerabilities of DPRK forces. After that first impressive salvo… Maybe no more Korean People’s Army fire support along the DMZ.

The counter-battery may take a toll of North Korean units but they are often well dug in and know the precise locations of South Korean units. Technology can only do so much as Israel discovered in Lebanon against a much weaker foe than North Korea would be.

There is good reason to question the North’s aerial protection from ROKAF/USAF sorties.

A lot would depend on who struck first. If the North could pin down the US/South Korean airbases for 20 minutes with cluster munitions delivered by missiles then they would have air parity at least. Not sure that they could co-ordinate that sort of attack and that is the scenario where a missile defense would come in handy.

Note that the Green Pine system is currently (officially, anyway) designed to counter missile fire and not yet mortar or artillery rounds. Once installed, its range and cover may improve in the next few years as the “beam” technology improves and can be adjusted to target super-sonic small objects without utilizing kinetic or quasi-kinetic measures.

Grunchy Cranola on November 23, 2010 at 1:18 PM

You would still have the cost ratio problem. I think directed energy weapons would be more useful if they can be made cheap enough.

sharrukin on November 23, 2010 at 1:28 PM

More than likely, Kim Jong-Il has three goals in mind:

Id bet its mostly the second with the first being the payoff.

Greed on November 23, 2010 at 1:30 PM

Looks like daddy Kim is doing what he always wanted to do knowing that junior will have to deal with it…………

seatacus on November 23, 2010 at 1:40 PM

This situation has been untenable since the day the armistice was signed. All out war is inevitable.

labrat on November 23, 2010 at 1:54 PM

Looks like I picked the wrong week to give up Kim Chi…

/

Seven Percent Solution on November 23, 2010 at 2:29 PM

Poor Barack, I wonder if even he knows what, if anything, he’s actually committed to. He’s not very tough in the traditional sense. However, he is dogged and that, I suppose, is one variety of tough. This may not be the Asian and Middle Eastern definition of tough though.

jeanie on November 23, 2010 at 2:51 PM

Kim Jong Il is doing what he does best: Shake down a squishy West, especially America.

He will rattle his sabres as long as needed for the desired effect whereupon he will ‘negotiate’ followed by his receiving money or whatever else it is that he wants.

DrDeano on November 23, 2010 at 2:54 PM

Well, pKim makes a grave error if he thinks attacking the ROK will test Obama’s mettle. The US forces in South Korea are on “tripwire” status by treaty.

They simply are not required to wait for permission or orders from Washington to retaliate against any attack.

They can (and will) act. Having participated in MANY Rolling Thunder exercises during my time in USAF, I can assure you – the NORKS would be met with massive – and immediate – power.

PJ Emeritus on November 23, 2010 at 3:03 PM

Got loin girds?

RedNewEnglander on November 23, 2010 at 3:03 PM

Terrorism works.

Being a rogue dictator works.

They just intended to remind the “strongly-worded letter writers” of the world that they are low on hush money.

reaganaut on November 23, 2010 at 3:09 PM

We can only hope that at some point the world will grow so weary of N. Korea’s tantrums that they will have no effect. That may even be true this time as no one seems particularly excited about it as much as in the past. The other result could be that N. Korea will over step one of these days and pffft. Often wondered just how far China would go to protect N. Korea. Not very far if China stands to lose more than it gains I’d guess. It’s not a country(China) to trust on any level except for what’s in it for them.

jeanie on November 23, 2010 at 3:12 PM

Wars and rumors of war.

flataffect on November 23, 2010 at 3:19 PM

With upwards of 10K arty tubes directed in and around Seoul, if the NORKS get off even 5 rounds per tube of 122mm or better, Seoul and its inhabitants are going to have a very bad day.I don’t think the ROKs ae willing to absorb that.

xkaydet65 on November 23, 2010 at 3:19 PM

They have lots of ammunition. North Korea doesn’t lack for weapons or munitions.

Seems fair to assume the state maintains stockpiles, but I’m not so sure their heavy resources are so extensive after all these years. But then they didn’t call the USSR a command economy for nothing.

The counter-battery may take a toll of North Korean units but they are often well dug in and know the precise locations of South Korean units.

And vice versa.

Technology can only do so much as Israel discovered in Lebanon against a much weaker foe than North Korea would be.

Agree that technology is rarely a panacea, but it may have an important limiting effect on the psychological (and material) threat of North Korean (and Hizbullah) barrages in the near future. The Israel-Korea situations are somewhat different though inasmuch as the conduct of operations and scale of response(s) along/past the DMZ would be several orders of magnitude greater and the nature of the combat rather less circumscribed. Israel pulled her punches against an irregular opponent that utilized mostly indistinct lines of communication and flitted between built-up areas, hiding amongst a civilian population. There would be open slugging between the Koreas – though how long that would remain a “fair” fight once the disparities between them begin to tell (GO KIM) is up for debate.

A lot would depend on who struck first.

It would mean the People’s Army might survive that much longer as a coherent, conventional military formation. Beyond that they would be in a great deal of trouble and suffer proportionately. Whether that would mean collapse…

If the North could pin down the US/South Korean airbases for 20 minutes with cluster munitions delivered by missiles then they would have air parity at least. Not sure that they could co-ordinate that sort of attack and that is the scenario where a missile defense would come in handy.

If they scrape up enough fuel for sustained sorties, if they can find enough trained personnel, if they somehow hide evidence of a massive aerial operation long enough to fool South Korean intelligence (much less early warning systems), if their dated bomber squadrons don’t malfunction for lack of new parts, if most of their pilots elude ROK air and ground defences, if senior flight officers don’t defect at the earliest opportunity… That’s possible. Possible but to my mind rather unlikely.

I think directed energy weapons would be more useful if they can be made cheap enough.

The work is underway (much of it in the Negev and maybe some on the West coast of the US). The proof will be in the pudding, if at all.

Grunchy Cranola on November 23, 2010 at 4:18 PM

Uh..hum.

Time for the UN to draft a strongly worded letter to North Korea:

Dear Mr. Kim,

Upon the news of a few missiles that struck South Korea, please don’t do that again. That was not nice and we need to be nice to live peacefully in this world together.

Oh and congratulation on appointing your son as the future leader and we will have the pleasure of sending more letters to him in the future.

Yours truly,

UN Security Council

JayJay123 on November 23, 2010 at 4:34 PM

The absolute lack of will to deal with this is appalling.

People are worried about consequences THAT ARE GOING TO HAPPEN ANYWAY. The only way to have ANY control over the consequences is to act at the time of YOUR choosing, not THEIRS.

Does anyone SERIOUSLY think that the North Korean regime really wants to live in a world of puppies and kittens and prosperity and just need a little Sesame Street displomacy to bring them around?

No? No hands up? Okay, then we either have to deal with it now or deal with it after they drop a nuclear SCUD on Seoul.

Damn diplomats and their excuses.

Merovign on November 23, 2010 at 5:18 PM

PJ Emeritus on November 23, 2010 at 3:03 PM

Tripwire? Hardly. Barring an all out attack by NK, US and ROK forces on the peninsula will not retaliate in any significant fashion. As we saw yesterday following the artillery barrage onto Yeonpyeong Island by NK, the SK response was merely a tit for tat firing of a few artillery rounds of their own. Neither South Korea nor the US have any desire for escalation. Any such escalation by the way would need Washington’s aproval. SK has the 15th largest economy in the world. In addition to the 28,000 troops the U.S. has in SK, the U.S. Military now allows and encourages family members of U.S. troops to accompany them on their tours here. http://www.usfk.mil/usfk/Uploads/100/13-09-KoreaTourLengthChangesandIncentives.pdf With that said, having lived here in Korea since 1985 I will tell you that the incident yesterday was one of the more high profile events that have occurred. Most of us here checked out the evening news when we got home, but this morning we’re all at work going on with our daily business. I work on Osan Air Base and coming in this morning I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary. I’m sure they’ll send the Dragon Lady up north this morning to see what Dear Leader is up to as usual. http://www.osan.af.mil/library/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=6910 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_U-2

galvestonian on November 23, 2010 at 6:15 PM

Does this not again validate GWB’s placing North Korean among the axis of evil.

bayview on November 24, 2010 at 12:06 AM

Lol, I honestly don’t give a rats butt about South Korea. They have been feeding these reptiles in the North for years with aid and food. I say let them fight their own wars from now on. When the norks start murdering their sorry butts, they may take their relationship with us a little more seriously.

Africanus on November 24, 2010 at 3:10 AM

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