Brink of War

Matt Gurney is a columnist and editor at Canada’s National Post. Follow him on Twitter: @mattgurney


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Early Tuesday morning, local time, South Korean military forces were conducting a military exercise from a Marine base on the island of Yeonpyeong. The exercise involved firing artillery from the base, out over the Yellow Sea, to the south of the island — and away from North Korean territory. North Korea contacted the South during the exercise and demanded that the South cease fire. When the South refused to comply with the North’s demand, North Korea opened fire on Yeonpyeong Island, territory that has been recognized by the United Nations as belonging to the South for 57 years.

This attack is the most serious incident between the two nations since they were divided after the Second World War. The North Korean attack, involving approximately 100 artillery shells, hit the base on Yeonpyeong, killing two South Korean Marines and wounding 15 others. The North also shelled several civilian villages around the base. It is not known whether or not the civilian areas were intentionally targeted or were hit due to failures in North Korean targeting, but multiple (reports range from several to several dozen) private homes and buildings were destroyed. The island’s civilian population quickly sought shelter underground, but three civilians were still wounded in the attack.

South Korea was not long in responding. It immediately returned fire with its own artillery; while the North has of course not revealed its own losses, the South Korean military is a modern, well-equipped fighting force, and it’s near certain that they hit what they were aiming at. North Korean casualties are likely. The South also scrambled F-16 fighter jets to the area, but there are no reports yet as to whether or not they engaged any targets in North Korea. The South Korean military, while holding off on any further reaction to the North’s attack, is now at its maximum state of alert.

It is difficult to overstate the gravity of Tuesday’s attack. The two Koreas are both heavily armed nations, locked in a permanent state of war since a truce ended the Korean War in 1953. The two armies face off against each other across the Demilitarized Zone, where the modern military of South Korea, some 600,000 strong, is opposite a larger North Korean military, of an estimated one million troops, armed with mid-20th century weapons.

The North’s technological backwardness should not cause anyone to underestimate it. Quantity has a quality on its own, and in a final battle between the larger Cold War-era force and the modern, mobile South Koreans, while the South would likely win, it would not do so cheaply. Its capital city, Seoul, is within artillery range of North Korean positions, and as the North has shown today, it is now willing to use its artillery against South Korean soil. Any war between the two would be devastating in both lives and property and would send shockwaves through the fragile global economy.

This is not the first time that the South has been provoked by North Korea. Indeed, it was only eight months ago, in March, that the North Korean Navy launched an unprovoked attack upon the South. The South Korean warship Cheonan was torpedoed as it sailed the waters near Yeonpyeong Island. The torpedo explosion, which struck with no warning, blew the Cheonan in half. She went down quickly, taking 46 men with her. Another man, a South Korean rescue diver, would later die during search and recovery efforts to the Cheonan’s hulk.

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  • Chezwick_Mac

    Brink of war?

    Hardly.

    Just more of the same….typical North Korean saber-rattling designed to garner international attention…much like an impetuous child…and of course the world responds with indulgence.

    • scum

      The South's busy rattling sabers of its own. But I agree, this will end up as another non-event. The North has nothing to gain, and everything to lose by truly antagonizing American-occupied South Korea.

    • http://facebook.com Justin

      dude they should just go to war already. North korea kiled two of south koreas marines, if it were american marines we would be at war by now.

      • Spirit_Of_1683

        Really? We'd hear the 'moderate North Koreans' mantra trotted out with the turning of the other cheek. The US would do next to nothing, thanks to its cowardly liberals and the North Koreans know it.

  • Bear from Russia

    A very strange situation. A provocation of the North Korea? What for? It should be some sense in this, but I don't see it. Maybe North Korea is trying to get attention and money from third countries? Anyway the war doesn't respond to anyone's interests. I hope it won't happen.

  • al Kidya

    It's just chest thumping for the heir apparent for Kim Jong Il and nothing more.

  • Andres de Alamaya

    In a world where countries have a sense of balance and responsibility (which we'll never have) North Korea's major neighbors (China, Russia, India) would move in and give them an ultimatum. Get rid of the midget and introduce Democracy or prepare to be attacked from all sides and flattened. In the pioneer days of America settling the West, citizens often had to form vigilante groups to get rid of horse thieves or bad guys in their midst. The world hoped to introduce some international law and order by creating the U.N. which became a Third World Muslim controlled comedy club. If relative civilized countries ignore a dangerous lunatic in their midst, all will suffer.

    • DogWithoutSlippers

      Andres, North Korean doesn't move unless China
      says so – they are China's vassal and thus will always
      be protected.

  • flowerknife_us

    What better way to make obama look like milk toast than to have our friends attacked and do nothing.

    A modern day Wake Island is in the making.

  • DogWithoutSlippers

    North Korea is China's vassal and could be reined in anytime China wills – obviously, the Chinese want an antagonist there to make them seem less of a threat. Cannot even imagine the terror and destruction if a major war breaks out in that region. Picking sides and the collateral damage even to non-participating waring nations to keep the pot boiling.

    • http://www.intellectualconservative.com Steven Laib

      China is using N. Korea as a surogate.

  • Ronin 58

    Have to agree with Chezwik_Mac on this one, this is hardly a brink of war. Its more of , North Korea is low on food supplies for the winter and is trying to extort more handouts for it. Similar to Gangland (Mafia) extorsion, which Obama should be used to coming from Chicago. NK has nothing to lose, even though South Korea has the modernization and hardware, they dont have the stomach for war. The ball is in the US court and of course with a weak president , they should be getting there handouts soon once they make a fake move to the table for talks . Same old story, different chapter.

    • Sage0925

      *shakes head* All that money for centrifuges, and none to feed the people. Insane.

  • davarino

    It is possible cooler heads within the North Korean military could see the writting on the wall and see that they would be wiped out. Could there be a military coup and take out the Kim midgets?

  • NATE HATE

    PERFECT TIME FOR SHOCK AND AWE.BUT FIRST THE SOUTH SHOULD START BUIDING REFUGGEE CAMPS FOR THE POOR CITIZENS OF THE NORTH FREEDOM IS SOON COMING TO THOSE WRETCHED SOULS

  • Triple_AAA

    China pretty much controls the cards here, I doubt that the Chinese want a major war to break out, I think they prefer the status quo of a divided Korea.

  • Rifleman

    ROK counterbattery is a lot more effective than the prk's, I I bet they took out the nork tubes. The ROK should make shooting at them expensive rather than get used to getting shot at. If one of lil kim III's expensive submarines came up missing every time he attacked the ROK, he'd quit attacking the ROK.

    Hussein should also tell the chicoms to muzzle their pet.

  • http://apollospaeks.townhall.com ApolloSpeaks

    AXIS OF EVIL NORTH KOREA STRIKES SOUTH KOREA AGAIN

    After doing nothing to punish the nuclear bullies of Communist North Korea for the sinking last March of the Cheonan, killing 46 of its South Korean crew, expect more of the same or worse from our weak, incompetent bungler-in-chief in response to today's unprovoked attack on Yeonpyeong Island. I say "worse" because North Korea's economy is imploding and Kim Jong Il wants a new round of concessions from Obama and the West and will likely get them thus continuing Bill Clinton's dangerous policy of extreme appeasement-which is greatly responsible for the sinking of the ship and yesterday's provocative attack . The numeric signs that I've discovered seem to confirm as a warning to Obama the consequences he will suffer to his presidency and legacy for following the failed policies of the past and choosing weakness over strength in dealing with Kim………

    Click my name to read the reast of this widely posted article on my NUMBER ONE blog at townhall.com.

  • Lightning Jack

    Aren't we forgetting that North Korea (unprovoked) torpedoed and sank a South Korean war ship less than nine months ago killing 45 sailors? And now (again unprovoked) has lobed 100 artillery shells at a South Korean military base and civilian community. Think this goes quite a bit beyond just saber rattling…would we put up with it if it were our war ships and bases? Well, probably "yes" with this Congress and president.

    The salient issue here is at what point does South Korea decide that the cost of war with the North outweigh the risk of future, and perhaps more dangerous provocations?

  • http://www.mysapce.com/freddawes1776/ Fred Dawes

    watch china that is the real enemy the monkeys in the north take orders from the monkeys in china. I only hope the rock Army can stand up to the real enemy?

  • Wesley69

    This is a continuing test of Obama's resolve; the first being the sinking of the South Korean sub. The test was probably instigated by the Chinese to further humiliate the Obama administration.

    China may very be taking notes and looking at Taiwan, whose reunification to the Mainland has been a longtime goal of the Communist government.

    Obama‘s actions to date haven’t changed the opinion of our enemies; they still hate us; maybe even more, but they have discouraged our allies.

  • Matt

    Nobody wants war as all war creates is heartache. That being said, no soverign nation should be pressured to sit back & allow aggressive neighbors to attack at will without being allowed to retaliate, (Israel comes to mind). Sth Korea has been "tolerating" the Nth's poor behaviour since the armistice. Advocates of diplomacy will argue there is never an excuse for war, however may of these people have either not experienced what its like to be on the recieving end of such behaviour or live in countries that have normal relations with their neighbors. Nth Korea is unpredictable & a dangourous nation for that reason but,….appeasment, as has been shown elsewhere (the Middle East comes to mind) allways fails in the end. Appealing to a rational mind will in all liklyhood get a desireable outcome, but we are not dealing with rational people here & appeasement is viewed as weakness. Now is the time for a disproportionately harsh response. The unknown quantity here though,……is China.

  • Arngrímur Stefánsson

    In my non-professional opinion, North-Korea needs to be dealt with. If China wants to be taken seriusly, not talked at like some high school bully with mental retardation(while still always polite, since he is after all, a bully) they need to realize that the Kim Jong Il dynasti is a complete failure. The world knows now that DPRK's(Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, overcompensating much?) has nuclear capabilties though impossible by such a backward nation.

    The more the unification of Korea is delayed, the more threat North-Korea becomes. A war now might at worst have three nukes launched by DPRK. A war in ten years, 30 nukes. 20 years 300 nukes? If the brainwashing, propaganda continues, and the Kim Jong Il dynasty also continous, it is just a matter of time until one of them decides to go Defcon 5 on South-Korea and Japan.

    Long story short, the DPRK's government is a tumor. Sure, the procedure is painful, but best to get rid of it before it grows out of control. Nuclear armed DPRK is the last thing this world needs.

  • sam000

    North Corea has no choice, any country at NC's situation will do what they did.

    When a Dictatorship is in no gate CRISIS, he has to export and exhuste his CRISIS, and to provoke a war is the solution.

    If NORTH COREA do not provoke a war, it will collapse from inside.

    The FAMINE, Extreme poverty, 60% of no job, the whole popullation depend on foreign food help, and the Regime of maFIA COMUNIST of the KIM has generated a hell for the popullation, what the North Corean Regime can do to stop the implosion? WAR and ONLY WAR.

    Appeasing the Dictatorships will always generate the WAR.

  • WilliamJamesWard

    The reigning loonocracy in North Korea where extortion and murder are business as usual are in the similar relationship of Lebanon and Syria with Iran. North Korea and Iran are partners in evil and what North Korea does may have a distracting effect from keeping our eye on Iran. China has good realtions with Iran and the World power balance is tilting ever so crazily, it is hard to judge but China may be using North Korea to put pressure on America to cause us to disingage from what they consider their sphere of influence. With a dishonorable American government who can expect us to honor old alliances, who? It seems China will be opportunistic and gain as much ground as quickly as it can before 2012 and Iran also, things are getting scary, the World is slip, slip,__sliding out of control. With contempt for us and no backbone to rely on America is in a vulnerable position with the rest of the World, if Cuba invades through Mexico on donkeys, Obama will surrender, we are far from the government we need and nuts everywhere, and nuts are no good__until they are cracked……………………………………………………William

    • sam000

      I agree on all your points; you are EXACT and Right, China by using the Proxies like North Korea and Iran filtrates it's influence everywhere, Your OBAMA/CLINTON administration is surrendering.

    • justin

      Your a moron. think real military strategy, north and south korea are the distraction, Russian terrorists in Moscow(just like COD) american military power spread out because of the war on terrorism , and the kicker just like Pearl Harbor we think we're safe.
      its not America thats weak, its the goverment. Dont lose Faith in the people beside you if the worst comes in the form of invasio, even civilians like me can be all they can be when they have to. divided we fall united we stand, and i dont care how many strong the enemy maybe I wouldnt give up,
      I'd remember the people fighting beside me beside me and how I would fight to the last man and leave no one behind if they had a fighting chance and id fight until i either died or somehow killed em all, and its people like you that would cause this country to fall, so where would you stand if that day comes tommorow, would you be on the frontlines or cowering under you bed afraid to die for whats right?

  • flowerknife_us

    China is trying to gain control of the sea area the US has controlled sense WWII.
    The fruit Nixon planted is being harvested. Odd isn't it? How the Left hated Nixon to the core. Yet he set up shop with the Lefts biggest client. Nixon was impeached for the wrong reason.

    Given the nature of our Commander in Chef, Is our Carrier actually a show of strength or a recipe for a dramatic withdrawal? Who in this administration would ever think of defending Regan?

  • alexander

    There is God!! Proof:
    Instead helping South Korea, Bama was playing ball…and got hit on his jaw.

  • geronl

    South Korea shelled North Korean barracks, likely empty, instead of the artillery emplacements that shelled the island. It was yet another sign of weakness by SK, sure to embolden the Kim regime.

  • http://facebook.com Justin

    South korea is trying to avoid war. The U.S would already be at war if even one of our marines was killed in the Norths attack on the island.

    an after thought, they say WW3 will be a nuclear holocoust, but what if they want to invade like in call of duty modern warfare 2, nukes wouldnt be the best option if you want a countries resources either. so unless their stupider than a preschooler they would use conventional weapons. makes sense right?

    • Spirit_Of_1683

      But if the US was at war, they wouldn't fight to win. You can't hope to win a war with converted social workers. Almost 10 years of war ought to have told us this.