On Tuesday statements out of Pyongyang further pushed tensions on the Korean peninsula to possibly the highest point since the Korean War ended in a cease fire in 1953. The area has never enjoyed a true sense of peace as the nations of North and South Korea tentatively coexist in on a peninsula in Northeast Asia, separated by a highly fortified border of walls, barbed wire, and military installations. The current round of rhetoric has surrounding nations as well as nations across the globe taking notice.
Pongyang’s statement issued Tuesday by the North Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee through the state-run media, said that “Once a war is ignited on the peninsula, it will be an all-out war,” and further stated that it didn’t want to see foreign workers, diplomats, or visiting citizens in South Korea to “fall victim” to a conflict in the region. This new volley in the war of words and posturing comes just a week after North Korea warned diplomats in its capitol city of Pongyang that it would not be able to guarantee their safety.
Many countries are viewing the threats from North Korea’s enigmatic young leader Kim Jong Un as troubling, but are not overreacting. Kim Haing, Presidential spokeswoman in Seoul, said these words are nothing but “psychological warfare.” “We know that foreigners residing in South Korea as well as our nationals are unfazed,” she said. The official word out of the British embassy in Seoul was much the same. “We are not commenting on the specifics of every piece of rhetoric from North Korea,” said Colin Gray, the British embassy’s head of media affairs. “Our travel advice remains unchanged. At this moment, we see no immediate threat to British citizens in South Korea.” Even foreign citizens visiting South Korea seemed unfazed by Pyongyang’s statements, saying that they didn’t see things anymore unsettled than they have been for the last several weeks.
While this might just be the latest barrage of heated words from a desperate country’s fiery leader, others are taking the threats seriously. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement on Tuesday saying that the situation on the peninsula was “very dangerous,” and also warned that any small miscalculated action or response may “create an uncontrollable situation.” According to Admiral Samuel J. Locklear, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, recent threats from North Korea and continued defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions represent “a clear and direct threat to U.S. national security and regional peace and stability.” He continued to say at a Senate Armed Services hearing Tuesday that “a major conflict in Korea could have unpredictable, long term, and far reaching impacts due to the central location of the Korean peninsula in Northeast Asia and the vital importance of Northeast Asian trade to the global economy.” He was also quick to say that he was confident that U.S. would be able to defend itself and its friends if conflict with North Korea becomes inevitable.
Japan also is taking no chances in the wake of the quickly escalating rhetoric. They have already deployed Aegis destroyers in the Sea of Japan in an effort to monitor North Korea after Pyongyang had threatened to use ballistic missiles against the United States, which could possibly be U.S. bases on Japanese soil. The Aegis destroyers are armed with SM-3 interceptor missiles which are designed to destroy ballistic missiles shortly after launch. In response to Tuesday’s threats Japan reinforced its defenses by placing PAC-3 antimissile defense units around Tokyo and Chiba. It is presumed that these units are a fallback shield for Japan against any missiles that might make it through the SM-3 net as the PAC-3s have only a 30km range. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, said that Japan would shoot down any missile that was threatening Japanese soil. Currently the Japanese war-renouncing Constitution does not allow for action that would fall under the U.N.-defined collective defense action. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has proposed a Constitutional change that would allow Japan to intercept missiles that would target the United States, but as yet the Japanese government remains consistent with the current Constitutional stance.
In the United States Kim Jong Un’s rhetoric is continuing to make an impact. According to a new CNN/ORC International poll, more than 4 out of every 10 Americans view North Korea as a real and immediate threat to the U.S. This figure is up over 13% from just a few weeks ago. Keating Holland, CNN Polling Director said “If North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wanted to get the attention of the American public, his strategy is starting to work.”
North Korea has repeatedly ignored U.N. directives on nuclear testing. It has declared that it will reactive a nuclear reactor that had been shut down in an agreement with Washington, Seoul, Beijing and other governmental parties. Kim Jong Un has continued his threats and rhetoric of war and has moved missiles into ready positions. The north has even pulled 53,000 workers out of the Kaesong Industrial Complex which represents the last joint cooperative venture between the two Koreas. There is no doubt that tensions are very high in the Korean powder keg and threaten to rise with each day that passes. In the meantime, the world waits with peace hanging in the balance.