US strategy takes Korean crisis into new territory

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In this photo taken on Saturday, March 9, 2013, the guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen (DDG 82) arrives to participate in the annual joint military exercises, dubbed Key Resolve, between South Korea and the United States, as South Korean navy sailors wave South Korean and U.S. national flags at a naval port in Donghae, South Korea. AP

SEOUL- Soaring tensions on the Korean peninsula have seen dire North Korean threats met with an unusually assertive US response that analysts warn could take a familiar game into dangerous territory.

By publicly highlighting its recent deployment of nuclear-capable B-52 and stealth bombers over South Korea, Washington has, at times, almost appeared to be purposefully goading an already apoplectic Pyongyang.

“There certainly seems to be an element of ‘let’s show we’re taking the gloves off this time’ about the US stance,” said Paul Carroll, program director at the Ploughshares Fund, a US-based security policy think-tank.

And the North has responded in kind, declaring on Saturday that it was now in a “state of war” with South Korea.

Security crises on the Korean peninsula have come and gone over the decades and have tended to follow a similar pattern of white-knuckle brinkmanship that threatens but finally pulls back from catastrophic conflict.

North Korea’s founding leader Kim Il-Sung and his son and successor Kim Jong-Il were both considered skilled practitioners of this high-stakes game of who-blinks-first diplomacy.

And they ensured Pyongyang had enough form to lend its threats credibility, having engineered provocations that ranged from blowing up a South Korean civilian airliner in 1987 to shelling a South Korean island in 2010.

The current crisis, with Pyongyang lashing out at a combination of UN sanctions and South Korea-US military exercises, diverges from precedent in terms of the context and the main characters involved.

It follows the two landmark events that triggered the UN sanctions and re-drew the strategic balance on the peninsula: The North’s successful long-range rocket launch in December and its third — and largest — nuclear test in February.

Both may have emboldened North Korea to overplay its hand, while at the same time prompting Washington to decide there was already too much at stake to consider folding.

“Rhetorical salvoes are one thing, while rocket launches and nuclear tests are quite another,” said Carroll.

In addition, both North and South Korea have new, untested leaders with a strong domestic motivation to prove their mettle in any showdown.

Bruce Klingner, a Korea expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington, believes the danger of “miscalculation” is especially high from North Korea’s young supremo Kim Jong-Un.

Kim was not only emboldened by the successful rocket and nuclear tests, but “also by the knowledge that Seoul and Washington have never struck back in any significant way after previous deadly attacks”.

This time around, however, South Korea has signalled it would respond with interest, and the message sent by the B-52 and stealth bomber flights is that it has the US firmly in its corner.

Peter Hayes, who heads the Nautilus Institute, an Asia-focused think tank, points out that the B-52 deployment carried a particular — and potentially dangerous — resonance.

After a bloody border incident in 1976 left two American soldiers dead, the United States spent weeks sending flights of B-52 bombers up the Korean peninsula, veering off just before they entered the North’s air space.

Then US secretary of state Henry Kissinger commented that he had “never seen the North Koreans so scared”.

Hayes warned that replaying the B-52 threat could prove to be “strategically stupid” by reviving the North’s historic and deep-rooted fear of a US nuclear strike.

“The B-52 deployment also declares loudly and clearly that they have forced the US to play the game of nuclear war with North Korea,” Hayes said.

“It tells them it has reached the hallowed status of a nuclear-armed state that matters enough to force a simulated nuclear-military response,” he added.

The possible end-game scenarios to the current crisis are numerous, but none point to an obvious path for defusing the situation peacefully.

Most analysts rule out the prospect of a full-scale war on the grounds that North Korea knows it would lose, just as it knows that launching any sort of nuclear strike would be suicidal.

But after threatening everything from an artillery assault to nuclear armageddon, there is also a sense that Kim Jong-Un has pushed himself into a corner and must do something to avoid a damaging loss of face and credibility.

A provocative missile test fired into the sea over Japan is one option with a relatively low risk of further escalation.

Several analysts had originally predicted a limited artillery strike similar to the 2010 shelling of Yeonpyeong island, but the US and South Korean vows of a tough response have called into question just how “limited” such a move would prove to be.

Scott Snyder, a senior fellow for Korea studies with the Council on Foreign Relations, suggested that the United States, having delivered its message loud and clear, should now provide Kim with a way out.

“There is a need for the United States and South Korea to offer some clear diplomatic gestures of reassurance toward the North that can help the North Koreans climb down, calm down, and change course,” Snyder said.

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  • Mamang Pulis

    even dogs who bark too much do have fangs that can bite.

    those rockets can easily reach Luzon—particularly–Subic.

    great! can they move it further down a bit

    ??—51P TS 839 551 4375

    :)

    • tadasolo

      Are you kidding no rockets can reach that far. Did you mean ballistic missile??

      • Mamang Pulis

        :) when they boast ‘rockets’, nokor means their ballistic missiles..

  • kilawon(the return)

    US criminals again? …..when are they going to stop making up wars ? i hope god would send them a huge tsunami for taking the world as a hostage! tsk

    • Twister12

      Ha? If there is no US presence North & South already annihilated each other long time ago & China invaded Taiwan & probably the rest of Asia.

      • kilawon(the return)

        blah3 coming from pepenos slaves,brainwashed since 1889 up until now! pepenos believe everything their white master says ! keep on a$$ licking third worlder peeps!

      • Crazy_horse101010

        bow wow speaking of brainwashed you sound just like your commie masters do you use knee pads when you meet one of them.

      • gryzyxwoz

        1898… not 1889. :)

    • Crazy_horse101010

      i hope it takes you first it would have to be a big for a country 5000 kilometers across tsk tsk worried about mother north korea getting smashed

    • boymanok

      hey kilawon, thats a good one…i agree, go ahead and fly to Pyongyang so you could sign up with the North Korean army …teach those US criminals the lesson they need and I’m pretty sure Kim Jong Un will be very proud of you. I think your the God sent savior that the North Korean people are waiting for…no need for tsunami

      • gryzyxwoz

        Spot on, Boymanok!!!

    • Ramil Abalon

      thats wrong..who provoke????????like u also is provoking

    • Marx Louis Wang

      So you think the US is the bad guy? I think you badly need a psychiatric test.

    • WoBushi

      kilawon, you got it all mixed up. you’re looking at the long shore. you actually embolden your perceived enemy (US) by openly declaring your misguided and irrational choices. Your so-called god will not even trust your side. Recalculate.

    • jgl414567

      Here is one fool who thinks the tyrant, Kim Jung Un is on the right side!

      • gryzyxwoz

        Lots of people fall for commie propaganda…

  • Stuart M.

    Uh, the U.S. Subic Bay naval base was closed in 1991.

    • Mamang Pulis

      right—and still being used by US Warships to replenish their supplies..:) Are you John Carter from Mars?

  • BatangSingapore

    bomb beijing first. we all knew china has a hand on latest north korean’s stupidity.

  • tadasolo

    The baby emperor is throwing a tantrum cause he needs millions of tons of rice to feed his people and the only way he can get it is to threaten and scare the South Koreans and Americans. But the problem is nobody is taking his bait this time and he is using much more scary tactics knowing full well that he will be decimated and it will be the end of his regime but at the cost of hundreds of thousands dead and we are all going to lose as a result.

  • Marx Louis Wang

    Kim JU is mad because he was deprived of going to Disneyland when he was much younger.

  • farmerpo

    Take out the Nokor leadership to set the NoKor citizens free. They are already starving. Asia cannot afford a full scale war. No nation should ever go thru another war. Stop the sabre rattling. The whole world already knows who holds the military aces.

  • jgl414567

    Just take out this young tyrant, Kim Jung Un! Assassination is justified here to save the lives of many.

  • doublecross

    why,why,why…..stop US imperialist!

  • Ricgwapo

    Nokor has already declared that “nuke” abandonment is non-negotiable. Perhaps it simply means that no matter or amount of sanctions would ever change the direction the Nokor has taken as they further declared it is “their life blood” to nuke arm.

    What would be left of the international community in regards to the spread of nuke arms esp. for undemocratic country such as Nokor?

  • Juan_Smith

    Too many conclusions. What i knoe is . . the U.S. A is scared of UNIFIED KOREA.

  • JosengSisiw1

    KJ Un is just following his Dad strategies. But unlike our political juniors @ least KJ has balls to position himself for better US dialogs. Ours were just good on trying to gain some pogi points but hollow when it comes to strategic discussions. They just travel to US for vacation with their families and friends courtesy of the taxpayers.

  • kulkat8

    China is Kim Jung Un’s master puppeteer. Neutralize the puppeteer and the puppet will die.

  • doublecross

    US don’t have balls, they only scare the small ones!

  • doublecross

    wqhy not the china or russia, et us see what happen to them.

  • westcruise

    The American diplomacy on foreign policy has & will never change: “Speak softly and carry a big stick” – US President Theodore Roosevelt.

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