At 2:43 PM local time today, North Korea fired artillery rockets at the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong setting dozens of residential homes ablaze, wounding three civilians and fifteen soldiers, and killing two South Korean Marines. South Korea responded with artillery fire of their own but while they placed fighter planes on alert none took off. For hours North Korea offered no explanation for the attack on the island, which is two miles south of the Northern Limit Line and eight miles from shore, but by late in the evening the official North Korean news finally acknowledged the incident claiming that the South had “recklessly fired into our sea area.”
This is not the first time the North Koreans have threatened South Korea in the Yellow Sea (also called the West Sea). In August, the North fired 110 artillery shells near Yeonpyeong and another island. And in March, 46 sailors were killed when a North Korean torpedo sunk the Cheonan. Today’s artillery shelling furthers North Korea’s tactical objectives of asserting sovereignty over the West Sea Area. But, more importantly, it furthers the North’s strategic escalating pattern of provocations designed to force the United States and South Korea to abandon pressure tactics, including sanctions on the regime. The White House must not give into these tactics.
Pyongyang’s actions, including this weekend’s revelations of a covert uranium enrichment facility, are designed to weaken U.S. and South Korean resolve and force the U.S. back to Six Party Talks on nuclear negotiations; which is exactly what China called on the U.S. to do after today’s incident. So far the U.S. and South Korean governments have properly resisted North Korean demands and they must continue to do so. That the Chinese continue to abet the North Korean’s tactics should also make us think long and hard about the sort of partner/competitor we face with China.
But this incident is also another reminder of the White House’s misplaced priorities. While Obama spends every waking second using Chicago-style tactics to press for ratification of the New START nuclear deal with Russia, North Korea is running amok. New START offers the US no new tools to deal with Iran and North Korea which are the clear and present danger. Instead, all New START does is tie our military’s hands by limiting our capacity to build the missile defense systems necessary to deal with these regimes. The President should spend less time hawking flawed treaties to justify his Nobel Peace Prize and invest more time in fighting for peace against America’s enemies.
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