News / Asia

South Korea Urges North to Stop Making Threats

A South Korean soldier walks up the stairs at an observation post, near the demilitarized zone (DMZ) which separates the two Koreas, in Paju, north of Seoul, March 12, 2013.
A South Korean soldier walks up the stairs at an observation post, near the demilitarized zone (DMZ) which separates the two Koreas, in Paju, north of Seoul, March 12, 2013.
— South Korea is not sounding any alarms after North Korea's war declaration, saying it does not denote a new threat. But U.S. officials say they are taking it seriously.

South Korea's Ministry of National Defense has issued a statement calling on Pyongyang to stop making what it calls unacceptable threats.

The ministry also warns that the South's forces are in full readiness posture and will completely punish the North if there is any provocation.

The Unification Ministry, in charge of North-South relations in lieu of diplomatic ties, says Saturday's war decree is not new, but a continuation of provocative threats.

However, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council in Washington says U.S. officials are taking Pyongyang's announcement seriously.

Pyongyang broadcasts war message

The North's central broadcasting station transmitted an eight-minute long “special message” Saturday morning in the name of “government, political parties and organizations.”

The announcer said “North-South relations will enter a state of war from this hour on, and accordingly all the issues between the North and the South will be handled as those in wartime.” She adds “the state of neither war nor peace has come to an end on the Korean peninsula.”

The announcement adds if there are any military provocations by the United States or South Korea, specifically mentioning five frontier islands in the Yellow Sea and the Military Demarcation Line, then the conflict will not be confined to a regional battle but rather spread “into a full-scale war, a nuclear war.”

Analysts note this is the first time since the 1953 armistice that an authoritative state media in North Korea has made such a declaration, although there were references to a “semi-state of war” in 1983 and 1993.

Risk of conflict rising

Daniel Pinkston, senior analyst for Korea at the International Crisis Group, says the unprecedented declaration raises concerns about a miscalculation.

"We've lived with that threat or possibility for over a half century now," said Pinkston. "I think the risk of hostility has gone up. The problem is I don't see how North Korea backs out or the way out for North Korea."

That, he explains, is because of the isolated and impoverished state's risky and costly militarism policy.

Pinkston said, "This is a very shrill signal, mostly for a domestic audience in North Korea for Kim Jong Un to solidify his leadership. It's a very risky strategy and it could have unintended consequences for the regime down the road."

The North's young leader, Kim Jong Un, who succeeded his father, Kim Jong Il, after his death in December 2011, declared Friday his forces are ready “to settle accounts” with the United States.

That came after a pair of stealth B-2 bombers were dispatched from the United States to drop inert munitions on a South Korean island range.

The mission, following those by B-52 bombers earlier in the month, was seen as sending a messages to both Seoul and Pyongyang. It was a dramatic reassurance to the South that it is protected under the U.S. nuclear umbrella. And a warning to the North of America's capability to strike it precisely and quickly from a long distance, should war erupt.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steven L Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.

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