Is the military ready?North Korea fired two 100-kilometer-range missiles into the Yellow Sea on Thursday, only 13 days after a similar launch in its eastern waters. The Roh Moo-hyun administration again said this week’s missile firings were “a part of the North’s routine military drill.” But the matter is not so simple.
The missile launches came amid growing uncertainty on the Korean Peninsula. The six-nation talks’ Feb. 13 agreement has not been implemented, although two months have passed since its initial deadline in April. The delay resulted from the unresolved issue of the North’s frozen assets in Banco Delta Asia.
Because the South Korean government linked rice aid with the progress of the nuclear crisis, the North, for the first time in years, was unable to secure its rice.
U.S. President George W. Bush called North Korea one “of the world’s worst dictatorships,” renewing his criticism of the Kim Jong-il regime after refraining for six-months. North Korea’s repeated missile launches appeared to be a sign of the frustration felt by Pyongyang leadership over these circumstances. The missile was launched on the eve of inter-Korean ministerial talks, and the North chose to fire it into the Yellow Sea, an unusual location taking into account China’s sensitivity. The North could be preparing to take a hard line regarding the Northern Limit Line in the western waters, the de facto maritime border between the two Koreas. It is possible that the North may not pursue the issue, but if it does so, Seoul must react sternly. The South must reconsider its position on the Northern Limit Line. The government wants to discuss the issue at the defense minister talks as one of the eight issues to be further negotiated under the basic agreement signed between the two Koreas in 1991. And yet, this will only damage the Northern Limit Line without producing any effective outcomes. The eight issues have seen no progress in 16 years.
Agreeing to discuss the border issue is nothing more than accepting the North’s demands. Such a careless act will only prompt public criticism.
South Korea has seen two maritime skirmishes with the North in June in past years. Since its relations with the South and the international community are not smooth, the North may renew its brinkmanship by raising tensions to achieve what it wants. And yet, the South Korean military is treating the missile launches as if they were nothing.
Has the promise that the military will be ready for any contingency been made in vain?