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

Will Cuba Follow the Southeast Asia Model?

Decision to restore ties between US and Cuba has some debating whether it will lead to enhancement or regression of democracy for Communist island nation More

Kenyan Designer Finds Her Niche in Fashion Industry

‘Made in China’ fabrics underlie her success More

Report: CIA, Israel's Mossad Killed Senior Hezbollah Commander

The Washington Post story says Imad Mughniyah was killed instantly by a bomb "triggered remotely" from Tel Aviv by Mossad agents More

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.
Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Lateri
X
Deborah Block
January 31, 2015 12:12 AM
Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Later

Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid