News / Asia

    North Korean Belligerence Could be Part of Leadership Succession

    Kim Jong Un attends massive military parade (file photo)
    Kim Jong Un attends massive military parade (file photo)

    The most frequently heard question in the wake of a North Korean attack on a South Korean island is "why?" Those who have devoted their careers to studying North Korea, one of the world's most opaque nations, say it is difficult to get a clear answer. One theory ties the artillery attack last week to efforts to establish the son of leader Kim Jong Il as his successor.

    Last Tuesday's shelling of a community on a South Korean island was not the first time North Korea has lashed out at its neighbor since the Korean War in the 1950s.

    And, a number of experts on North Korea say, it will not be the last. Indeed, several say South Korea and the United States, which has 25,000 troops in the country, may have to contend with additional military actions by North Korea in the months and years ahead.

    Military first

    They say it is an inevitable part of the transition of leadership in a country that has declared a "military first" policy for its scant resources.

    Retired General John Wickham Jr. (file photo)
    Retired General John Wickham Jr. (file photo)

    Retired General John Wickham Jr. shares that view. The former U.S. Army Chief of Staff and commander of U.S. forces in South Korea says the North Korean military is critical to a successful leadership transition in Pyongyang.

    "It's conceivable that Kim Jong Il has given more independence to the military as a quid pro quo - 'if you will support my initiative here, which you may not like, my efforts to put my son in to follow me," Wickham said.

    Seeking support

    In the past few months, North Korea's government has established leader Kim Jong Il's son, Kim Jong Un, as his successor. The younger Kim, who is about 28 years old, was made an army general in September, although he has no military background. Some North Korea scholars think that by allowing, or even encouraging, the military to strike out at South Korea, the elder Kim hopes to secure support for the succession.

    Although two South Korean civilians and two marines died in the shelling last week, Seoul responded only with a limited amount of return fire, and announcements of new military training with the United States. The training includes naval maneuvers that started Sunday and involve a U.S. aircraft carrier.

    More strikes ahead?

    While some critics say Seoul and Washington responded too softly, Wickham says they may have no choice but to continue with a restrained response. He expects Pyongyang's military, which is believed to have a few nuclear weapons, to conduct more limited strikes.

    "This could be a manifestation of the North Korean military exercising its independence and exercising some of the military prowess that they have to demonstrate that 'we are strong and we are - for our own purposes and for neighboring countries' purposes - capable of defending our interests," Wickham said.

    ICG NE Asia analyst Daniel Pinkston
    ICG NE Asia analyst Daniel Pinkston

    Northeast Asia analyst Daniel Pinkston of the International Crisis Group says there should not be any expectations that influential moderate voices, if there are any in Pyongyang, will be heard.

    "[For] any of the military leaders that are on the rise and that have influence in the North Korean government to counsel restraint or to show weakness could result in their political demise. So it's very dangerous at the moment, I think," Pinkston said.

    Certainly, the talk out of Pyongyang is tough.

    Joint exercises

    A North Korea television newscast describes the U.S. aircraft carrier leading the exercises with South Korea as the spearhead aggressive force targeting Pyongyang.

    The announcer reads an official statement that calls the maneuvers "nothing but an attempt to stubbornly light the fuse of war by inventing a justification of aggression by whatever means."

    Both the U.S. and South Korea are hesitant to push North Korea too far. A miscalculation could lead to a war that leaves, by some estimates, more than a million people dead, and would devastate South Korea's robust economy.

    Motivations

    Despite Pyongyang's tough talk, other regional analysts theorize North Korea does not realistically expect to defeat South Korea's military or force Washington to back off.

    Rather, they say, Pyongyang hopes to bring South Korea down a notch by creating so much uncertainty that its economy is damaged. Or Pyongyang is trying to convince South Korean voters it would be better to replace the current conservative government with one resembling preceding administrations.

    The previous two South Korean governments tried to better relations, and gave substantial aid to North Korea, hoping that would persuade Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear programs and peacefully co-exist.

    The current government of President Lee Myung-bak, however, has taken a tougher line, cutting off most aid to the impoverished North until it makes progress on its pledges to halt its nuclear weapons programs.

    You May Like

    US Leaders Who Served in Vietnam War Look Back and Ahead

    In New York Times opinion piece, Secretary of State John Kerry, Senator John McCain and former Senator Bob Kerrey say as US strengthens relations with Vietnam, it is important to remember lessons learned from war

    Trans-Adriatic Pipeline to Boost European Energy Security

    $4.5 billion-pipeline will become operational in 2020 and will deliver gas from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz II field to southern Italy

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Annual festival showcases the region's harvested agriculture, fine wines and offers opportunities to experience the gentle breeze in a hot air balloon flight

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora