Are North Korea And South Korea Going To War? Probably Not.
Twitter’s all abuzz with the news that North Korea has launched artillery shells at a South Korea island,
North Korea shot dozens of rounds of artillery onto a populated South Korean island near their disputed western border Tuesday, prompting South Korea to return fire and scramble fighter jets, military officials said. At least one South Korean marine reportedly was killed.
The skirmish came amid high tension over North Korea’s claim that it has a new uranium enrichment facility and just over a month after North Korean leader Kim Jong Il unveiled his youngest son Kim Jong Un as his heir apparent.
South Korea’s YTN television said one South Korean marine was killed and that two people were injured. The report said several houses were on fire and shells were still falling on Yeonpyeong island, which is about 60 miles (100 kilometers) west of the coast. The station broadcast pictures of thick columns of black smoke rising from the island.
Yonhap news agency, quoting a military official, said four soldiers were wounded.
President Lee Myung-bak ordered officials to make sure that the firing wouldn’t escalate, according to Yonhap, quoting a presidential official. YTN said between 1,200 and 1,300 people live on the island, citing an island resident.
Shelling South Korean civilians is certainly an act of war, isn’t it? So, does that mean war is about to break out? Probably not.
What you have to understand is that the Korean Peninsula is one of those troubled places in the world where this sort of crazy violence tends to happen ever so often. In that respect, it’s a little like Israel or the border between India and Pakistan. As a matter of fact, a peace treaty was never signed after the Korean War; so both of these countries are still officially at war with each other and there have been a number of small, violent clashes through the years. I’m not really a big fan of using Wikipedia for posts like this one, because it’s sometimes inaccurate, but it’s the only place I’ve run across with a well organized list of border incidents — and even if it gets a couple of these wrong, it still gives you a good general idea of the situation:
March 1980: Three North Koreans are killed while trying to cross the Han River estuary.
March 1981: Three North Koreans try to enter the South in Geumhwa-eup, Cheorwon, Gangwon-do; one is killed.
July 1981: Three North Koreans are killed trying to cross the Imjin River to the South.
November 1984: Three North Korean soldiers and one South Korean soldier die, and one American soldier is wounded during the firefight that erupted when a North Korean security detail chased a defecting Soviet citizen (Vasily Matusak) across the MDL into the southern-controlled sector of the Joint Security Area.
May 1992: Three Northern soldiers in South Korean uniforms are killed in Cheolwon, Gangwon-do; three South Korean soldiers are wounded.
May 1995: North Korean forces fire on a South Korean fishing boat, killing three.
October 1995: Two armed North Koreans are discovered at the Imjin River; one is killed.
April 1996: Several hundred armed North Korean troops cross repeatedly into the Demilitarized Zone.
May 1996: Seven Northern soldiers cross south of the Demilitarized Zone, but retreat after warning shots are fired.
May & June 1996: North Korean vessels twice cross the Northern Limit Line and have a several-hour standoff with the South Korean navy.
April 1997: Five North Korean soldiers cross the Demilitarized Zone in Cheolwon, Gangwon-do, and fire on South Korean positions.
June 1997: Three North Korean vessels cross the Northern Limit Line and attack South Korean vessels two miles (3 km) south of the line. On land, fourteen North Korean soldiers cross 70 m south of the center of the DMZ, leading to a 23-minute exchange of fire.
June 1999: A series of clashes between North and South Korean vessels take place in the Yellow Sea near the Northern Limit Line.
2001: On twelve separate occasions, North Korean vessels cross the Northern Limit Line and then retreat.
November 27, 2001: North and South Korean forces exchange fire without injuries.
June 29, 2002: Renewed naval clashes near the Northern Limit Line lead to the deaths of four South Korean sailors and the sinking of a North Korean vessel. The number of North Koreans killed is unknown.
November 16, 2002: South Korean forces fire warning shots on a Northern boat crossing the Northern Limit Line. The boat retreats. The incident is repeated on November 20.
February 19, 2003: A North Korean fighter plane crosses seven miles (11 km) south of the Northern Limit Line, and returns north after being intercepted by six South Korean planes.
March 2, 2003: Four North Korean fighter jets intercept a US reconnaissance plane over the Sea of Japan.
July 17, 2003: North and South Korean forces exchange fire at the DMZ around 6 AM. The South Korean army reports four rounds fired from the North and seventeen from the South. No injuries are reported. 
November 1, 2004: North Korean vessels, claiming to be in pursuit of illegal fishing craft, cross the Northern Limit Line and are fired upon by the South. The vessels retreat 3 hours later.
July 30, 2006: Several rounds are exchanged near a South Korean post in Yanggu, Gangwon.
Wikinews has related news: Korean navies exchange fire
November 10, 2009: Naval vessels from the two Koreas exchanged fire in the area of the NLL, reportedly causing serious damage to a North Korean patrol ship. For more details of this incident, see Battle of Daecheong.
March 26, 2010: A South Korean naval vessel, the ROKS Cheonan, was sunk by an explosion near Baengnyeong Island in the Yellow Sea. A rescue operation recovered 58 survivors but 46 sailors were lost. On May 20, 2010, a South Korean led international investigation group concluded that the sinking of the warship was in fact the result of a North Korean torpedo attack. North Korea denied involvement. The United Nations Security Council made a Presidential Statement condemning the attack but without identifying the attacker.
Why do these incidents continue to occur? The Norks shift the blame, deny they occurred, claim they were provoked — it’s always something. In other words, they use every excuse in the book. Here’s the reality: North Korea is a starving hermit kingdom that is only able to continue to function as a state because the rest of the world tosses money and aid in its beggar bowl. Ever so often, in order to try to get more goodies, the Norks act a little cRaZY. That then leads to a flurry of diplomatic activity, attention, and they hope, more aid agreements.
In other words, think of a belligerent, deranged homeless guy on a street corner. Now imagine that guy running a country and having access to nukes. Congrats! You now understand why it’s important to get nuclear weapons out of North Korea.
PS #1: Many people tend to assume that America is in South Korea to keep it from invading North Korea. There’s some truth to that. However, the reverse is also true: We want to make sure that South Korea doesn’t flip out after being provoked in this fashion and invade North Korea. This is unlikely because the Norks could probably devastate Seoul right off the bat if there were a war, but it’s not impossible to imagine things getting out of hand.
PS #2: That being said, if North Korea were to get rid of their nukes, I’d personally like to see the United States pull out of South Korea. It’s a prosperous modern country that’s significantly more populous than North Korea and it really shouldn’t need to rely on us for its defense. Of course, there’s always the possibility that China might get funny ideas about South Korea, but it seems unlikely given that South Korean trade is important to the Chinese economy and that we could still ally with South Korea without parking 25,000+ American soldiers in the country.