North’s tricks won’t workNorth Korea has raised sea tensions again, firing barrages of artillery shells on Wednesday and Thursday near waters of the maritime border between the two Koreas. The shells fell in the waters north of the Northern Limit Line on the peninsula’s west coast, just shy of South Korean waters. A day prior, North Korea declared two “no-sail” zones - firing zones for missile or artillery drills - near Baengnyeong Island in the Yellow Sea. These zones include South Korean waters and will be in effect until March 29. It is the first time the North has included South Korean waters in self-proclaimed no-sail zones since the U.S.-led United Nations forces designated the sea border after the Korean War ended in a truce in 1953. The North so far doesn’t acknowledge the maritime demarcation line and has attempted incursions on several occasions that sometimes ended in deadly skirmishes.
North Korea’s renewed military provocation could stem from several factors. The North may be trying to make a territorial claim on the west coast as a part of its military strategy. It may be seeking to stretch its naval boundaries. But it has misjudged if it thinks it can shove South Korean naval forces out. The NLL has been drawn to enhance military trust and peace between the two Koreas and it will be of no effect if one side unilaterally disregards it.
North Korea habitually sends patrol ships to fire on or threaten our Navy. It is thereby worsening prospects to find common ground on the disputed sea border. The country will only enrage South Koreans and solidify their determination to defend their sea line.
Some believe North Korea has returned to its belligerent self to regain public attention as the international community remains largely unimpressed by its call for peace treaty talks with the United States and the lifting of UN sanctions as a condition to its return to the six-party talks on nuclear dismantlement. That strategy has been tried too often. It cannot persuade Washington and other concerned members that it is ready for a peace treaty to officially end the war while intensifying military tensions at the same time.
North Korea may be vainly and desperately seeking attention from Washington and Seoul to pursue talks with Pyongyang. But neither Washington nor Seoul will play along with the North’s habitual resort to military tensions and clashes to get attention and a negotiating edge.
Whatever the motive, the government’s counteraction should be stern yet appropriate. We must not be swept away by North Korea’s attempt to create tension and instability. At the same time, the military should take immediate, tough steps to defend the NLL. Authorities are facing a strategically difficult situation, where they must maintain a strong position while having the wisdom and courage to engage when necessary. The public must understand the intricacy of the times and be calm and supportive. We also must prevent ourselves from falling prey to excessive anxiety or indifference.