Negotiations to find a way to settle their most recent differences continue but even as they do there are once again concerns the tensions between North and South Korea could escalate. The South notes that the North has doubled their troop strength and increased artillery near to the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) and that 50 of their submarines have put out to sea.
The South, too, has increased its military presence in the area.
“We have detected 70 percent of the North Korean submarines missing from their bases, and we are looking for their whereabouts,” an anonymous Defence Ministry told media sources. “This is a typical North Korean tactic of talking on one hand and brandishing military power on the other to try to force their way.”
These most recent tensions between the countries, technically at war after the 1950 to 1953 Korean War was ended only by a truce, not a treaty, began when two South Korea soldiers were injured by land mines on August 4.
Seoul insisted that the North had recently planted the land mines and considered them a provocation and demanded both an admission and an apology. But Pyongyang denied planting the land mines and said no apology would be forthcoming.
Negotiations on Korea Peninsula
This led South Korean President Park Geun-hye to order an action her country has not taken since 2004 – the broadcasting of propaganda from 11 loudspeakers at points along the border. Much of the propaganda is critical of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un and that is not taken lightly in the North. Last Thursday the North fired shells into the South. The South retaliated with artillery fire. There were no casualties.
The North then set a Saturday ultimatum for the broadcasting to stop, threatening consequences if it did not. The South continued the propaganda and said it would not end until they got what they wanted.
“In order to stop the repeating cycle of provocations and anxiety,” President Park Geun-hey told an assembled group of South Korean officials. “We need a clear apology and commitment from the North that these things will not happen again.”
Over the weekend, however, negotiators from the two sides got together in the DMZ to try and talk their way out of the impasse. They are currently into their second marathon session, with South Korea’s chief security adviser Kim Kwan Jin leading the talks on one side and North Korea’s top military adviser Hwang Pyong So on the other.
But with the North launching submarines and mobilizing and the South scrambling at least 8 fighter jets and matching the North’s troop build-up near the border, the negotiators have a formidable task. It’s not known to what if any degree either side has backed down in its position during talks and it cannot be known where it all will lead.
This much is clear though: neither leader wishes it to look as if they have been bested by the other and both appear intractable. But if progress is not made and military provocations continue it is difficult to see this latest scenario ending without the use of military force. But, of course, they have been here before many times and the 1953 truce has continued, more or less, to hold.
But is this the time it does not?