Marines patrol on Yeonpyeong Island on Nov. 22, the one-year anniversary of North Korea’s artillery attack on the island. (Yonhap News)
Possibility of another attack remains high as militarism continues to trump dialogueBy Lee Soon-hyuk North Korea’s surprise artillery attack on Nov. 23, 2010, brought major changes to the thinking and routine of military personnel stationed on Yeonpyeong Island. K9 artillery company members alternate over three shifts a day at artillery installations. The barracks is just 150 to 200 meters away, but they eat and sleep by the artillery in order to be able to fire back within five minutes in the event of a North Korean provocation. The situation is difficult, but no one complains. The prevailing view is that they were taken unaware once before, and they need to respond comprehensively if another opportunity arises. All around the base on Monday were signs reading “November 23: The Battle Is Not Over” and “In Memory of the Yeonpyeong Unit’s Victorious Artillery Battle.” While the situation at the very front is one of fighting spirit based in hostility, the military leadership is moving to fortify the five West Sea islands. In June, a Marine-centered Northwest Islands Defense Command was set up, and an additional budget of 100 billion won ($87.2 million) for 2011 was allocated just for reinforcement of military strength around the islands. An additional 1,000 military personnel were stationed there, and K9 units were more than doubled. Also brought in was an AH-1S Cobra attack helicopter with Vulcan and grenade-launching capabilities, a multiple rocket launcher and new Artillery Hunting Radar (ARTHUR), and daytime and nighttime observation equipment for monitoring the front. Plans are under way to bring in Spike missiles, tactical aerial vehicles, and unmanned reconnaissance aircraft. North Korea is not passively accepting the situation. During a meeting with the Hankyoreh on Nov. 15 at the Marine Corps headquarters in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi, an official with the Northwest Islands Defense Command said, “We have confirmed that the enemy is preparing an attack through other methods besides artillery provocations, and we are preparing accordingly.” Analysts said North Korea has brought in thousands of additional special forces soldiers for overseas invasion and hovercrafts, while South Korea is stepping up its exercises in anticipation of a surprise land attack by North Korea. The heightening fears of a clash are not limited to Yeonpyeong Island. Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Jung Seung-jo have emphasized that self-defense rights take precedence over the rules of engagement and stated that they would respond with fighter aircraft and artillery support forces in the event of another provocation. But the military faces limitations in terms of the astronomical amounts needed to prevent any at all additional North Korean provocations, which may take any of a variety of forms, as well as the small surface area of the five islands. North Korea may also deploy the tactic of carrying out a provocation in another direction while South Korea‘s vast military might is tied up in the islands. Observers said that for all the psychological and physical blows taken and money spent, military reinforcements are unlikely to bring about peace and stability.
Buddhist Society Institute senior researcher and former Cheong Wa Dae national security committee administrative officer, Kim Chang-su, said, “This vicious cycle of ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’ is not going to ensure ultimate peace in the West Sea.” “We need to create a window for dialogue with North Korea to maintain peace in the West Sea even as we are filling in the security gaps, and we ultimately need to create a special zone of peace and cooperation in the West Sea as agreed upon in the October 4 Joint Declaration,” Kim said. Please direct questions or comments to [firstname.lastname@example.org]