North Korea Shells South Korea Border Island
Russian Korea Expert Downplays Threat From the North
By Dale Sinner, Supervising Editor
© Copyright CollapseNet, Inc. – All Rights Reserved
This timely interview by Japan-based CollapseNet Supervising Editor Dale Sinner puts the Korean situation into perspective. I would add that while China is showing clear signs of aggressiveness towards the US on many economic and political fronts (which I consider far more likely to have harmful results)this is an arena which is a lose-lose for China. The things to watch are the ever-worsening EU debt crisis and global moves away from US dollar-denominated assets. -- MCR
November 28, 2010 (6:30 PM JST) -- In a telephone interview I conducted with Professor Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert and associate professor of history at Kookmin University in Seoul, South Korea, I found concise, plain-spoken analysis on North Korea’s motivation for attacking South Korea – analysis which stands in stark contrast to the dark, more apocalyptic analyses I myself may have suggested and to those circulating in western media generally since the attack.
According to Professor Lankov, “They are asking for money. This is how they ask for aid.”
Reports that up to 20,000 North Korean guest workers in maritime eastern Russia were repatriating to prepare for war are in Lankov’s words “a fake.”
“It’s not happening. I just got email from a colleague in Vladivostok – it’s just not happening.”
In an as yet unpublished column on the attack, Lankov writes that
“The political motivation behind these strikes is clear: the North Koreans demonstrate that if they are ignored and not provided with enough unconditional aid and other giveaways, they are capable of creating much trouble.”
Despite televised coverage of public demonstrations in South Korea on CNN and BBC, Lankov notes that the level of public outrage is much less intense than people unfamiliar with South Korean politics might imagine.
“… for many Koreans, such incidents are merely the price to pay for living next to a very peculiar state.”
Lankov writes that there is no response that will satisfy any of the parties involved, nor any active response that would do anything but exacerbate an already bad situation.
“…all conceivable actions by Seoul are likely to have no impact on the situation or will even make it worse.
The diplomatic solution is not going to work. The quasi-allies of North Korea, China and Russia, already expressed their disapproval of possible tough actions by Seoul and essentially suggested that doing nothing is the only diplomatic solution they would accept. So, without Chinese participation, chances to build up international pressure on Pyongyang are zero – and, at any rate, Pyongyang has demonstrated that it can easily ignore such pressure indefinitely.”
Professor Lankov rejects outright any suggestion that China had anything to do with the North Korean attack or that China can do much to reign in North Korean aggression.
“China can do nothing about North Korea. They (North Korea) are not anybody’s sons-of-bitches. They are nobody’s sons-of-bitches. They are nobody’s ‘running dogs’.”
In fact, Professor Lankov finds the suggestion China approved the North Korean attack disturbing.
“China is too much vilified in your country. I couldn’t believe it when I visited the United States. I just could not believe the vilification of China by all those talk radio hosts. China might have a bad government, they might have a better government than they’ve had in a very long time, but they don’t care for this kind of trouble. China wants stability in its neighborhood so it can have economic growth. They don’t want the kind of trouble there is now with North Korea.”
The repercussions of a general war on the Korean peninsula notwithstanding (which would conceivably produce a flood of refugees into Chinese territory and the possibility of a R.O.K./U.S. occupation of the North, not to mention tens of thousands of casualties at minimum, and a ruined South Korean economy), Lankov maintains that
“China can do nothing. North Korea is playing a game. It’s a brilliant game. And it's the same game it played in the past with China and the Soviet Union, playing the two against each other – but this time it’s China and South Korea and the U.S. -- (North Korea) needs money.
“The fact is, they don’t like China, they don’t like having China as their only or main supplier – they want to get away from that single dependence. They want, as the saying goes, ‘Chinese bread and imperialist butter.’ They hate that China has exclusive impact on their economy. They want at least 2 or 3 suppliers at minimum.”
Lankov concedes that North Korea’s government and the living conditions of most of its citizens can be described as “abysmal” when compared to the other countries of north East Asia and the rest of the world. However, he maintains the current North Korean government is “the best it has been in 16 or 17 years.”
Lankov maintains there is “zero chance” of full-scale war on the Korean peninsula – that is, unless South Korea, the U.S. or North Korea miscalculate and ramp up the conflict.
“Large-scale war is out of question, completely and unconditionally.
The major vulnerability is the Seoul Metropolitan Area, a home to 24 million people, roughly half of all South Koreans. The huge city is located within the shooting range of the North Korean artillery, with some 250 pieces being capable of hitting targets as far south as Suwon, and many smaller pieces that can bombard the northern and central areas of the capital. Even if these guns are silenced in the first hours of the conflict (a big if), they will still inflict huge damage on the city, killing tens of thousands civilians. The operations of the North Korean Special Forces will wreak havoc in the rear, while advance of the South Korean army towards Pyongyang will be difficult and bloody.
In other words, even though South Korea is almost certain to win, it will emerge from the war with a ruined economy and also saddled with the need to reconstruct the dirt-poor North – the need of which terrifies South Koreans even now, when their economy is doing very well.
The impossibility of war is the reason why South Korea’s pain threshold is so high. Even if tomorrow (god forbid!) the North Korean artillery fire a few dozen shells at downtown Seoul, or if a North Korean fighter jet shoots down a civilian airliner right over Inchon airport, this will not lead to a war. A few such bombardments – or a couple of air attacks – might produce such effect, but one is clearly not enough.”
Lankov believes retaliatory strikes would be of no benefit to the south and would only inflict casualties on North Korean servicemen and women, if not bolster what North Korea’s political strategists intended all along.
“An attack on the military installations in North Korea is not an option either. South Korean forces can wipe out a few coastal batteries, but this will only make the situation worse. To start with, lives of common soldiers and sailors in North Korea cost nothing, and the children of the elite do not serve in the navy (they shop in Swiss boutiques instead). The parents of the dead soldiers also will not have any political clout.”
Not only would there be little to no propaganda value of any retaliatory R.O.K. military strikes according to Lankov, such strikes could conceivably help the North achieve its short-to-mid term goal – more unconditional aid.
“It is often stated that a show of South Korea’s military superiority will at least make the regime lose face, but this is not the case either. Pyongyang rulers control the media completely, so they can easily hide the scale of the military disaster or even present it as a great victory.
At the same time, retaliatory strikes will enhance the political and economic effect, which was intended by the North Korean strategists from the very beginning. They staged the recent incidents because they know that news about “tensions mounting in Korea” are bad for the markets and hence are certain to damage South Korea’s economic performance, which depends on its international reputation for stability. The North Korean strategists calculate that South Korean voters, who do not care that much about the North, would be annoyed by the economic problems and general sense of tensions, so they will use their ballot power to exercise pressure on the government, demanding a softer line towards Pyongyang. Needless to say, retaliatory strikes will simply increase tensions, thus aggravating the political and economic damage to the country (and to the government in power).
So, the only conceivable (but also useless) reply is tough talk and a show of military power. This is also somewhat dangerous since it will increase the likelihood of incidental clashes on the border. But one has to understand: the (South Korean) government has to show that it is doing something when actually nothing can be done.”
Small scale attacks like that on YeonpyeongIsland and the attack on the South Korean warship earlier this year are “almost certain” to happen again according to Lankov, “unless someone pays.”
Andrei Nikolaevich Lankov is a Russian-born Asian scholar and a specialist in Korean studies. He is currently associate professor of history at Kookmin University, Seoul, South Korea and has taught language and politics at Australian National University as well as at Leningrad State University. He attended Kim Il-sung University in Pyongyang in 1985 and is the author of several articles and books dealing with North Korean politics.