07.08.2016 Author: Konstantin Asmolov

Korea: And Who is the Provoker?

43534534534534In an earlier article, we have already quoted paragraph 49 of resolution No. 2270, in which the UN Security Council acknowledges the importance of maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and welcomes any efforts to avoid any actions that might lead to increased tension.

We are referring to it now, because very often, the mass media talks about “DPRK provocations”, representing the actions of the South as a mere response to them. But let us see which side contributes more to the increasing tensions.

Let’s start with the North. As examples of provocations, South Korean media often uses propaganda videos showing attacks on the US base in Guam by Musudan missiles, which should indicate that the North possesses real capabilities of launching missiles against the enemy, wherever it might be. Other videos show the testing of anti-ship and anti-tank missiles, the destruction of an American aircraft carrier, a B-2 strategic bomber and a MV-22 Osprey convertiplane, as well as the launch of a ballistic missile from a submarine. On June 24, a video showing a computer-simulated nuclear attack on the US emerged.

On July 9, North Korea test-launched a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). The missile took off normally, but its further flight was most likely unsuccessful. The missile supposedly exploded in the air after having flown only a few kilometers. The previous launch on April 23 was also unsuccessful: the missile flew about 30 km, and then broke into several fragments, which sank in the sea. Another Musudan missile test, whether it failed or not, remains a point of expert debates as to what its original purpose was.

Under certain conditions, the installation along the demilitarized zone can be considered as actions on increasing tensions. In 2016 these works were significantly intensified.

Notwithstanding, it is worth comparing this with how the South and its allies conduct themselves parallel to this. From June 27 to July 14, South Korean and US artillery, air force, and marines held regular exercises near the city of Pohang in the Gyeongsangbuk-do province, where they practiced landing in the back of North Korea, capturing areas for further attacks, as well as the destruction of nuclear facilities of the North, without concealing the nature of the upcoming manoeuvres. 800 soldiers from a quick response group of South Korean marines and 500 soldiers of the USA marines were transferred from Okinawa to take part in the exercise.

In mid-June, the USA held exercises involving the B-52 strategic bomber, attack aircrafts and the marines, during which an invasion of North Korea was also simulated. Washington did not notify Seoul, but the USA actions were no surprise for the South. According to some media, bombers practised missile attacks on Pyongyang nuclear and missile facilities and destruction of North Korean underground command bunkers and air strike tactics, while the marines practised landings on the coast, foothold and further advance development.

On June 27 2016, the USA, Japan and South Korea started three-party missile defence exercises in Hawaii. Each country engaged one destroyer, each of which was equipped with Aegis combat information and control system.

By the end of this year, South Korean Armed Forces plan to double the number of fixed and mobile loudspeakers for broadcasting propaganda to the North. The number of mobile sound reinforcement systems is to be increased from the current 6 units to 12.

Two quotes are worth stating here. The first one was made by an employee of the South Korean think tank “Korea Defense and Security Forum”, Shin Jong-woo: “An open recognition of US exercises, involving the B-52s bombing North Korea, should be taken as a warning that America is no longer going to tolerate the provocations of North Korea.

But if we evaluate the level of activity of the ‘fighters against provocations’, it turns out that they more than cover the isolated actions of DPRK, which is attacking neighbours in videos rather than in reality. Therefore, as recently noted by one expert, “The US command in the Asia-Pacific region stated that it held military exercises on North Korean invasion, bombing with strategic B-52 bombers and attack aircrafts. At the same time, the military of both the United States and South Korea not only did not hide the offensive character of their actions, but even emphasized it. Do they want these actions to be perceived as “contribution to peace and stability”? And then they will be surprised to see Pyongyang reacting nervously?!”

But still, any actions of the DPRK, even a single missile launch, get much more coverage in the media than the average South Korean exercises. An incident very similar to the recent one is when the Taiwan navy launched a supersonic anti-ship missile towards China by mistake, which happened on the day when the Chinese celebrated the 95th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party.

The media paid little to no attention to it, although if it had been a Chinese rocket launched in the direction of Taiwan, would we not have had to deal with numerous speculations along the lines of “Coincidence? I don’t think so! China clearly wants to show Taiwan its place.” And if it had been a random shot from the North in the direction of the South, the consequences could be similar to the last year’s August tensions, when the South Korean military attempted to hide their carelessness and violations of safety rules, which almost led the two countries to a military conflict.

Meanwhile, fighting provocations with greater provocations is generally bad practice. Because instead of stabilizing the situation, this only serves to exacerbate it even further, and increases the probability of new angry provocations by the other party. At kindergarten, the author of these lines was taught that if you are being teased and enraged, and an emotional response is being provoked, the best way is to ignore it. And you will most probably be left alone after that. The same applies to formal communication on the Internet: “Do not feed the troll.” The North and the South are presently actively feeding their own trolls until the situation escalates and the pig war begins.

Konstantin Asmolov, Ph.D. in History, Chief Research Fellow at the Center for Korean Studies of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.