North Korea carried out its threat to scrap the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War and cancel a cross-border hotline after the UN Security Council unanimously approved tougher sanctions over a forbidden nuclear test.
The action, coupled with hostile statements reported by the state-run North Korean media, raised tensions on the divided peninsula just as 10,000 U.S. forces joined South Korea’s military for eight weeks of military exercises known as Foal Eagle 2013.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspected front-line troops and said the military is ready for “all-out war,” the official Korean Central News Agency reported today. The government closed a liaison channel with the U.S. and South Korea at the world’s most heavily fortified border.
“The intensive indoctrination of the North Korean public is more worrisome than specific announcements or actions,” according to John McCreary, a former Korean affairs analyst at the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency. “North Korean leaders are generating a national perception that North Korea is under threat and that war is coming,” he wrote in his NightWatch newsletter.
Closure of direct communications channels is a classic indicator of general war, he said. “If North Korea recalls diplomats, closes the borders and airport and discloses more actions indicating it is in a semi-war state of readiness, the allies must prepare for a North Korean military incident, if not an attack by fire,” he said.
A North Korean general, Kang Pyo-yong, said yesterday that the country has placed long-range missiles armed with nuclear warheads on standby, according to Rodong Sinmun, an organ of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea. “An extremely dangerous situation is prevailing on the Korean Peninsula where a nuclear war may break out right now,” the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said in a statement carried by the KCNA.
While the country regularly issues nuclear warnings, it has yet to demonstrate the ability to put a nuclear device on a ballistic missile. The nuclear-missile threat “is just complete categorical bluster,” said Jennifer Lind, a Korean affairs specialist who is an associate professor of government at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. “We know they do not have functional intercontinental ballistic missiles and we know they do not have any nuclear device that could be fitted to a missile.”
Still, North Korea does have a large military force along with missiles, artillery and chemical weapons that could devastate the South Korean capital, Seoul, a city of 10 million located 30 miles (48 kilometers) south of the demilitarized zone dividing the two Koreas.
North Korea has about 700,000 troops, 8,000 artillery systems and 2,000 tanks that could be used in a conventional attack, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a research group. “Because of these forward deployments, North Korea could theoretically invade the South without recourse to further deployments and with relatively little warning time,” the group said.
Any such attack would be “suicide,” producing a devastating response by South Korea and the U.S., Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said yesterday at a hearing in Washington.
“There should be no doubt about our determination, willingness and capability to neutralize and counter any threat that North Korea may present,” said Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat.
Yesterday’s UN action was supported by China, North Korea’s largest trading partner. The Security Council voted 15-0, with no debate, to adopt a resolution drafted by the U.S. and China in the aftermath of the Feb. 12 underground blast. The new sanctions target “illicit activity” by North Korean diplomats, bulk transfers of cash, and banks and companies funneling funds or materials to support the country’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs.
Previous measures have failed to deter the impoverished regime from pursuing its atomic weapon ambitions.
“Our warnings were not heeded,” said Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, who holds the council’s rotating presidency. “Now the choice is for the DPRK to make,” he said, referring to the country by its official title, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “Now other interested parties must behave responsibly,” he added.
The tightened sanctions may lead to provocation from North Korea, Bank of Korea senior deputy governor Park Won Shik said at an emergency meeting in Seoul today.
“Our financial markets, stocks, bonds, and currency may see some impact, although we don’t see any unusual moves so far,” Park said. “We will closely watch the markets and work together with the government for market stability if needed.”
The Korean won fell 0.3 percent to 1,090.46 per dollar as of 3:52 p.m. in Seoul, while the benchmark Kospi index ended up 0.1 percent. Defense shares closed mixed after an early rally. Naval ship equipment maker Speco Co. rose by 8.6 percent, and armored vehicle manufacturer Firstec Co. fell 4 percent.
South Korean President Park Geun Hye, who took office as the country’s first female leader last month, said the government will “sternly respond” to any provocations.
“We take all North Korean threats seriously enough to ensure that we have the correct defense posture to deal with any contingencies that might arise,” Glyn Davies, the U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, said yesterday after testifying to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“It will be long journey,” to remove North Korea’s nuclear threat, China’s UN Ambassador, Li Baodong, said after the council vote. The top priority for the international community now is to defuse tensions, “bring down the heat” and focus on a diplomatic solution to the North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, he said.
Implementation by China has “been the Achilles heel” of past council resolutions against Kim’s regime, Michael Green, senior vice-president for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, wrote on the blog shadow.foreignpolicy.com.
“The Obama administration should keep at China to implement the new sanctions in terms of specific actions,” Green wrote.
China’s support for the sanctions may reflect its mounting frustration with North Korea after the Feb. 12 nuclear test held in defiance of both the UN and the Chinese government.
The resolution includes bans on equipment used to make chemical and nuclear weapons, front companies for the country’s weapons programs and importation of yachts, racing cars and jewelry for the regime’s elite. It also obliges UN member-states to stop any North Korean ships or planes suspected of carrying supplies for weapons programs.
Diplomatic steps to impose new sanctions on North Korea began after the country tested a three-stage ballistic missile last year and intensified immediately following the nuclear test that showed the country is assembling the building blocks for a nuclear-armed ballistic missile that could reach as far as Hawaii.