Deterring future aggressionExactly a year ago, North Korea fired countless shells on Yeonpyeong Island along the tense maritime border in the Yellow Sea. With the massive attack, the North destroyed hundreds of houses and killed or injured dozens of civilians and marines on the island.
Despite such a heavy toll, however, our military could not immediately launch a counterattack. Since then, the military has taken diverse measures to augment our defense capability in our five northernmost islands, including the establishment of the Northwest Islands Defense Command in June and reinforcement of our firepower. As a result, the military says it can inflict a humiliating defeat on the North if it launches another provocation.
The military is convinced that it can deter the North through large-scale drills. One of these is being held today in the Yellow Sea under the assumption that the North has initiated another aggression. Thanks to our unflinching determination to fight back, Pyongyang will hardly find it easy to carry out a similar attack again.
But it is dangerous to assume that a drastic reinforcement of our defense power in the Yellow Sea and the five islands will be enough to head off the North’s assaults because Pyongyang will most likely be tempted to attack again while trying to find any potential holes in our security.
North Korea habitually resorts to military provocation, as it knows it can receive benefits attractive enough to compensate for the damage. Last year, for example, the North was able to receive “strategic” support from China as a result of the Yeonpyeong attack: It not only averted the inevitable internal chaos that stems from a dynastic power succession from Kim Jong-il to his son, Jong-un, but also aggravated ties between South Korea and China and between China and the United States. Therefore, our government must draft a set of policies that will effect more damage than transmit advantages to North Korea when it provokes again.
The most effective way to achieve that goal is a thorough military retaliation against the North, together with the determination that we can attack first, if necessary. Seoul should also be fully prepared to use diplomatic and economic solutions, if the need arises. So far, the government has mostly tried to prevent exchanges of fire from turning into a full-fledged war - either half willingly or half not. But without a stern resolve to fight back if necessary, we cannot avert an escalation to war or deter an aggression. That’s the lesson from the Yeonpyeong attack.