Finally, after several weeks of military posturing and intermittent artillery fire, the tensions between North and South Korea appear to once more be easing. The 50 North Korean submarines have begun to sneak back into their bases, and the South has promised to once again turn off its banks of propaganda speakers that are placed along the edge of the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ). The North has also expressed regret for the severe wounding of two South Korean soldiers by a land mine whilst on patrol inside the DMZ. As such, relative calm has returned to the peninsula.
Given that the situation had been labelled a ‘recurring ballet’ by one writer whilst a deal was still being struck, it would appear that we don’t necessarily need to be worried, at least on the surface. Every few years we see tensions rise, then some artillery fire being directed towards areas devoid of human life specifically to avoid injuring anyone and provoking a real war. So, what caused this incident to be seen as more worrying than usual?
The answer would be lie in the huge banks of speakers. After the signing of a truce in 1953, there have been numerous periods of heightened and lowered tensions between the two nations. In 2004, they agreed that they would cease to blare propaganda at each other across their border on the DMZ. Then, this time around, the South reneged on that promise and began blasting fairly innocuous things such as K-pop and weather reports across the DMZ.
Whilst to us this may seem absurd as a reason for increasing tensions, for Kim Jong-Un, it is a matter of principle and power. If he had not acted , and threatened war, he would have been seen as weak. Not by the general populace of North Korea perhaps who would have seen stories of Kim Jong-Un the peacemaker, trying to convince the warlike South to end their futile attempts to provoke him, but instead in the higher ranks of the military and government. That’s why the North threatened all-out war over a few banks of speakers.
It must be noted that there was almost no chance of the peninsula returning to full scale war. The threats made were enough to force the South to take him seriously. Kim Jong-Un then played his masterstroke; as the deadline for his threats approached, he offered peace talks. He had made his threats, and then shown he did not truly want warfare, but instead wanted to show the world, and very specifically South Korea that he wanted to be taken seriously. Throughout his reign, he has been the subject of international satire, and rather understandably, this has damaged his international standing. Even as talks were ongoing, it emerged that 70% of the North Korean submarine fleet had put to sea and that South Korean forces had failed to find any trace of them. And when talks finally concluded on Tuesday, the North had proven it was not something to simply joke about; it achieved its aims, and in return had only expressed regret for the injuring of the soldiers, and thus was not admitting guilt, nor offering an apology.
The only time the outcome was in doubt was during the exchange of artillery fire on the Thursday before the peace talks. Whilst both sides took great care not to actually hit anything, it was a signal that both sides were not afraid to use military force, and had anything gone wrong in this show of force, all hell would have broken loose. But for now, with the so called recurring ballet simmering down, the war that keeps on giving seems to have calmed down once again.