200 reasons why North Korea declaring war is nothing new
Donald Kirk says it’s worth remembering, amid all the tension, that Pyongyang has cried wolf many times in the past 20 years, and perhaps it’s now worth considering long-term peace solutions
North Korea has been crying wolf so often, it’s hard to get too excited by the “declaration of war” this week by Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho.
Did not the North Koreans declare war after the release of The Interview three years ago? Did we not hear war declarations while North and South Korean troops had a near shoot-out across the demilitarised zone two years ago? And those outbursts paled beside the “declaration of nuclear war” a year after US president George W. Bush included the North in an “axis of evil.”
Leave it to NK News to tabulate how often the words “declaration of war” have appeared in the North’s Korean Central News Agency. The term, by NK News’ count, has come up more than 200 times over the past 20 years in contexts ranging from UN sanctions after the North’s first nuclear test in 2006 to revelations of lucrative drug and counterfeit-money industries.
Ri added, however, one touch that makes this declaration a matter of concern. By declaring North Korea was now ready to fire on US aircraft beyond its territory, he opened up the possibility of a strike and counterstrike.
Would US President Donald Trump not order an attack on the missile or artillery battery behind any attack? Would not such a strike carry risk of the North striking back at South Korean targets?
The scenario gets even more alarming if Kim Jong-un orders an attack on US planes flying over South Korean territory. Those shots would land on South Korean soil, provoking not only the US but South Korea to fire in return.
We can be sure South Korean President Moon Jae-in would be uncomfortable having to decide whether to fire back, as Moon still holds out hope of bringing the North to the negotiating table.
Interestingly, Korea Institute for National Unification senior fellow Park Jong-chul holds out hope of a “a two-track approach for resolving the problem of a nuclear North”. The objective would be a “nuclear-free Korean peninsula, settlement of permanent peace, formation of a single inter-Korean market, an inclusive democratic society”.
It’s hard to take such talk too seriously as Kim and Trump call each other names.
Still, there’s no harm in considering how peace might be possible. Park advocates “multiple negotiation processes related to denuclearisation” including both sanctions and dialogue.
Why not talk of“building a peace regime”, “normalising North Korea’s relations with the US and Japan” and “enhancing economic and security cooperation in North Asia”? How about “setting up a road map for denuclearisation and peace-building”?
The trouble with these ideas is that Kim will not tolerate any deal that calls for him to abandon his nuclear and missile programme. But it may still be possible, after this crisis and the next after that, to get into negotiations. On the way, however, expect more North Korean declarations of war.
Donald Kirk is the author of three books and numerous articles on Korea