Lots of rumours circulating about the possibility of all out war in Korea, following the first artillery attack in the area since the guns fell quiet in 1953. The question is: What does North Korea have to gain out of all of this?
Other than the obvious answer which is: ‘nothing’, here is a brief and incomplete list on North Korea’s motives:
1. Internal struggles within the KWP in the lead up to Kim Jong-un’s ascendancy to power.
The North was aiming “to brandish heir apparent Kim Jong-Un’s military prowess, strengthen internal unity and vent internal discontent toward the outside”, the premier told the National Assembly.
2. A clever ruse to restart multi-lateral peace talks
A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Hong Lei, also told a news conference that both sides of the Korean peninsula should “do more to contribute to peace”, and said it was imperative to return to six-party talks aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. (Reuters)
3. A bid by successor Kim Jong-un to ‘prove himself’ as the next leader of North Korea
“The first reason for this attack is the instability of Kim Jong Un. That is the fundamental reason. Constant military tensions help him to keep the support of his military, and to unite the North Korean people.”
4. North Korean soldiers felt legitimately threatened by a routine South Korean training exercise
“They were firing as a routine firing exercise and they were firing to the west and to the south, not in the direction of the North Korea mainland. It is important to point out, at least according to the South Koreans, this was a firing exercise, not live fire.”
5. A bid for attention
Two weeks ago, Seoul basked in the limelight of hosting more than 30 world leaders for the Group of 20 summit in what was seen as the country’s diplomatic debut. Next week, South Korea will make its case for the right to hold the 2022 World Cup. But a rising South Korea does not sit well with its poorer northern neighbor. Once the richer of the two Koreas, the North has suffered over the years from the loss of Soviet aid, economic mismanagement and natural disasters that destroyed its precious few resources.
6. An attempt to coax South Korea into all out war
Kim Jong Il and the Gang of Four know that all-out war would be suicidal, but they have learned over the decades that provocations have few downsides. Even after the sinking of the Cheonan, trade with South Korea remained steady, while that with China increased.
7. Pure unpredictable impulse
This is the wild-card explanation. Perhaps the reasons for this flare up will never be known – simply the whim and caprice of an aging, emotionally unstable dictator. In the same way a child playing a video-game commits virtual ‘crimes’ including declaring war for no particular reason – the leaders of North Korea may be simply toying with war, without fully realizing the implications of their actions.