The two Koreas have existed in a state of permanent tension for 60 years, with a cold animosity counting for the closest thing to peace on the peninsula. The Korean War of 1950-3 was nearly lost by the South, but victory was recovered by the United States Intervention. The war, however, never officially ended as an armistice, not peace treated, was signed.
In the past week, as the loose agreements of non-aggression came to an end, North Korea has begun by closing the hotline with Seoul and saying it will close the only shared border point. This has come after fresh multilateral sanctions were levelled at the North for their persistent nuclear weapons program which is prohibited internationally by the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Washington has declared that extreme rhetoric by North Korea is common and this is no exception, yet China is taking the situation very seriously. The Chinese government have been allies with Pyongyang for decades, yet Beijing has publicly criticised North Korea’s nuclear testing and supports the United Nations sanctioning.
North Korea has not been specific about just what actions will be taken, but it can safely be established that a pre-emptive nuclear strike will not happen. The main reason for this would be the second strike by the U.S, which would no doubt be a full retaliatory response. What’s more likely in the coming days are border clashes to provoke the international community as a response to U.N sanctions. The North may be better equipped to fight a land war with the South than start a major conflict with the world’s only military superpower.
The danger of the escalating situation is perhaps the destabilisation of communication channels, making smaller incidents transform into crises through misinformation. The Hotline established between the two capitals in 1971 was to prevent such situations from growing uncontrollably. Kim Jung-un, the semi king- semi deity to the people of North Korea, has had an impressive first year in power. He has tested nuclear devices despite international threats of reprisal, been visited by Dennis Rodman in a stunning display of basketball diplomacy and has now severed any positive relations with the neighbours to the south.
The possibility of conflict is not dangerously high; however this will change if the leaders of both Koreas continue with escalating rhetoric. Such brinkmanship is continuing to occur as the U.S and South Korea publicly demonstrate military drills, and the North televises Kim Jung-un rallying troops and publicly denouncing the South. The South Koreans have said that a unilateral end to the armistice is not valid, further suggesting that it was not legally valid for the North to do so.
Both the Chinese and American governments are concerned parties in this situation, yet the removal of support from Beijing recently may lead to further displays of desperation by North Korea. The situation will remain heated, but what is yet to be seen is the level to which North Korea is willing to push the United States, and indeed, how far the Washington will push back.
BY: Sam Wood