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

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book 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.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs