US to deploy missile defence asset to Guam
North Korea may be using belligerence tactically
South Korean soldiers patrol inside the barbed-wire fence near the border village of Panmunjom yesterday in Paju, South Korea. North Korea seems to be following its usual strategy of using belligerent language to win concessions on aid and, ultimately, achieve a peace treaty with the US. Photograph: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty
Military tensions reached a new high on the Korean peninsula yesterday as North Korea reportedly moved an intermediate-range missile to its east coast and the US unveiled plans to deploy a key missile defence asset to Guam.
South Koreans have a notably high tolerance when it comes to absorbing bellicose threats from their northern neighbours and the current crisis has not raised tempers unduly.
Young South Koreans in particular tend to look at the North with a mixture of bewilderment and anger. There is more focus surrounding the difficulties facing new president Park Geun-hye, and how she is filling her cabinet.
North Korea said that its nuclear armed forces represented “the nation’s life, which can never be abandoned as long as the imperialists and nuclear threats exist on Earth”.
Ahn Chan-il, a high-profile North Korean defector who is director of the World North Korea Research Centre, told the Korea Herald that Seoul and Washington might have to acknowledge the North’s current nuclear status to a certain extent should there be negotiations with it later.
North Korea seems to be following its usual strategy of using belligerent language to win concessions on aid and, ultimately, achieve a peace treaty with the US, which is no doubt its primary aim.
The most serious stand-off in recent years came in November 2010, when the North shelled Yeonpyeong, a South Korean island near the countries’ disputed Yellow Sea border, killing two civilians and two soldiers.
Earlier the same year, a torpedo attack blamed on the North sank a South Korean naval ship, killing 46 sailors.
Stanford University nuclear scientist Siegfried Hecker was one of the last westerners to visit the Yongbyon nuclear complex, and he said its research reactor has been on standby since July 2007.
“If they restart the reactor, which I estimate will take them at least six months, they can produce about six kilograms of plutonium (roughly one bomb’s worth) per year,” Mr Hecker said in an interview published on Tuesday.
Pyongyang’s Musudan ballistic missile has a range of 3,000-4,000km, which technically puts Guam, a key US strategic base in the Asia-Pacific region, in danger.
Military officials on the ground in Seoul are trying to work out how serious the threat of “merciless operations against the US” really is. The South Koreans have been here before with this kind of sabre-rattling.
“It is unclear whether the missile carries a warhead or not. We are closely watching it to ascertain whether the North moved it to actually fire it or in a show of force to threaten the US,” a military source told local media.