North Korea severs ties, communications with South

The diplomatic situation on the Korean peninsula continues to deteriorate, although for now not the military situation.  In retaliation for Seoul cutting off aid to Pyongyang after the sinking of its naval vessel two months ago, North Korea has declared that it will cut all ties with the South, including communications.  It will also expel South Korean workers from a joint project intended to bring closer economic ties:

North Korea is to cut all relations with South Korea, Pyongyang’s official news agency reports.

KCNA said the North was also expelling all South Korean workers from a jointly-run factory north of the border. …

Seoul announced on Sunday it was ending trade relations with the North in response to the sinking.

Tuesday’s KCNA reports announcing the severing of all ties – including communications – said the North was also banning South Korean ships and planes from its waters and airspace.

At least for now, the aggressive response remains restricted to diplomatic and economic actions.  Despite earlier reports that Pyongyang had mobilized its military, NBC reports that their military posture hasn’t changed at all:

There is no unusual activity by North Korean troops in light of the tensions between the country and South Korea, and northern troops are not on high alert, according to NBC news.

Pentagon sources have told NBC that there is no mass movement of troops along the border between North and South Korea after the South banned trade with the North. South Korea announced the ban Monday after saying the North was responsible for the sinking of a South Korean ship in March, killing 50 sailors. …

Most analysts doubt either side would risk a war, which would be suicidal for the North and economy-ruining for the South.

The initial markets falls were triggered by a story by the South’s Yonhap news agency quoting a local report that the North was gearing up for war.

It later emerged that the report said only that the North would fight back if it was attacked.

Kim Jong-il may have to hope that Barack Obama rides to his rescue with a new diplomatic mission, and soon.  The North is dependent on Seoul for food aid to feed its starving population.  An interruption of any significant length could touch off a famine that could kill thousands and destabilize his regime.  If that happens, Kim may launch a limited military exchange just to act as a distraction and keep his military from revolting, which reportedly has happened more than once over the past 20 years.

Will Obama rescue Kim from himself, or will the US keep Kim backed into the corner?  Neither option looks particularly pleasant; we certainly don’t need to fight another Korean War, but neither can we allow Pyongyang to sink vessels in the Yellow Sea without consequence.  The better question may be how long we can restrain ourselves from bailing out Kim and see whether the military may just decide that he’s not worth the trouble any longer.  That won’t happen if we take off the pressure. So far at least, the Obama administration is showing remarkable — and judicious — restraint.