“Let’s Drive Out the Imperialists and Reunite the Fatherland"
Guest post by Young June Kim
“Maybe there is no longer any such thing as strategy; only crisis management”. Robert McNamara’s words would have found a sympathetic ear with the South Korean military after Tuesday 23rd’s abrupt attack on the island of Yeonpyung-do by the North Korean People’s Army.
The casualties were numerous; both military and civilian. And unlike the attack on the ROK’s navy warship in March, the evidence was so undisputed that for once South Korean society was unanimous in its fury at and condemnation of North Korea’s actions.
Yet when it comes to the geostrategic implications, the crisis only served to magnify some long-standing positions with regard to the Korean peninsula. The situation, subsequently, has unfolded along lines we wouldn’t have been hard-pressed to imagine.
The ROK-U.S. alliance has carried out a joint war game along with a U.S. aircraft carrier, a move which both China and the DPRK in some sense see as a challenge to regional security. The latter two countries’ responses have differed though; China suggesting re-opening the Six Party Talks and Pyongyang growing ever more pugnacious in its public announcements.
With China’s dispatch President Hu Jintao’s special envoy to the North, the decisions of these two quasi-communist regimes are firmly in centre-stage; a place rendered more brightly lit by the recent revelations courtesy of Wikileaks that Seoul sees Beijing as being increasingly open to the idea of a unified Korean peninsula under Southern control.* That perennial question thus arises anew: will a second Korean War break out?
Before considering the question, it bears remembering that the possibility of war has existed continuously on the Korean peninsula since its division. More strikingly, according to a recent report by the Council on Foreign Relations, significantly more than a thousand military incidents between the two Koreas have occurred since the end of the war; with 1,436 clashes on the Korean peninsula killing 1,554 Korean and American soldiers since 1961.
Meanwhile the drumbeat of conflict continues to sound, to a rhythm dictated by Korea’s geostrategic importance. For as Zbigniew Brzezinski noted, the Korean peninsula is pivotal to the balance of power in Northeast Asia, representing either a “hammer” aimed at continental giants China and Russia or a “dagger” pointed at Japan.