You’re to be forgiven if you find yourself thinking ‘Oh, great. This is just what we needed.’ Even as we’re still in the middle of a hot war in Ukraine and multiple civil wars and unrest in other countries, the temperature on the Korean Peninsula was turned up several more degrees this weekend. Following Kim Jong-un’s fake test of their newest ICBM and his announced plans to return to testing nuclear weapons, South Korea responded with a bit of uncharacteristic bluster of its own. The South Korean Defense Minister told reporters that his government has “the ability to accurately and quickly hit any target in North Korea” if they have to respond to Kim’s “missile threats.” He also said South Korea would “respond overwhelmingly” to any sort of military strike by the North.
As you can imagine, this didn’t sit well with the North Korean regime. Rather than hearing from Kim Jong-un himself, however, his sister, Jim Yo Jong was sent out to deliver the responding rhetoric. She was slightly less provocative and blunt than her brother normally is, but only slightly. (Reuters)
Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, on Sunday condemned the South Korean defence minister’s remarks about the neighbour’s ability to strike against the North, state news agency KCNA reported.
The comment “has further worsened the inter-Korean relations and military tension on the Korean peninsula,” she was quoted as saying.
Kim, the vice department director of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, also said the country would “reconsider a lot of things” and that South Korea “may face a serious threat” due to such remarks.
The secretary of the Central Committee came out shortly thereafter with an even more specific threat. He said that North Korea was prepared to “mercilessly direct all its military force into destroying major targets in Seoul and the South Korean army” if they attempted anything resembling a “preemptive strike.”
It does seem to have been an unfortunate choice for the South Korean Defense Minister to make those remarks. It’s not that he was unjustified in responding to the latest round of inflammatory actions and statements from North Korea. They are clearly being extremely provocative at the moment. But if there’s anything worse than poking the Russian bear, it’s probably poking the madman in Pyongyang who is constantly looking for an excuse to tell his people that the western alliance is preparing to invade them at any minute. And when your crazy neighbor has nuclear weapons, that makes the situation all the worse.
But we had already been warned to expect a more hawkish stance from South Korea after Yoon Suk-yeol was elected as the next president last month. This weekend’s exchange of verbal barbs may be an early indicator of that shifting policy.
This also reminds us of how quickly things have deteriorated in that part of the world. Under Donald Trump, we saw the first cooling of tensions between the west and North Korea in a generation or more. And as that relationship appeared to become a bit less hostile, South Korea similarly moved to improve its relationship with the North. Those closer ties continued even after Trump walked away from the table when Kim Jong-un made it clear that he wasn’t offering any serious denuclearization moves in exchange for loosening sanctions and better relations. As recently as last summer there was even talk of establishing the language required to officially end the Korean war. (There was an armistice in 1953, but the war never officially ended.)
Unfortunately, we now seem to be right back where we were in the pre-Trump days, and it could potentially become even worse. South Korea is not believed to possess nuclear weapons of its own because they’ve long been covered by the American “nuclear umbrella.” But since the invasion of Ukraine, they have been talking about wanting some nukes of their own to counter both North Korea and China. Perhaps all of the people fretting over the possibility of World War 3 breaking out weren’t being overly hysterical after all. There are too many members of the new Axis of Evil that already have nuclear weapons and we seem to be heading for a situation where the global nuclear club may be growing rather than shrinking.