News / Asia

Analysts: North Korean Threats Raise Tensions

South Korean army soldiers patrol along a barbed-wire fence near the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea, Mar. 27, 2013.
South Korean army soldiers patrol along a barbed-wire fence near the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea, Mar. 27, 2013.
Mike Richman
In recent weeks, North Korea has been directing new vitriol at the United States and South Korea, threatening to turn Seoul into a "sea of fire" and launch nuclear strikes on U.S. targets.

Two Washington-based analysts said it is unlikely North Korea will go to war with the United States. The greater danger, they said, is that Pyongyang does something to provoke a conflict between the two Koreas.

Concern in Yellow Sea

Bruce Klingner of the Heritage Foundation said fighting could occur in the Yellow (West) Sea near the maritime boundary created at the end of the Korean War in 1953. North Korea has never recognized the boundary and redrew it in the late 1990s, bringing five South Korean islands into its own sphere.



"There are five islands just south of the Northern Limit Line, the disputed maritime boundary, and recently North Korea has moved additional artillery down to that area," Klingner said. "[North Korean leader] Kim Jong Un visited several of the islands. The rhetoric is very specific about the South Korean Sixth Marine Brigade on one of the islands. So that is causing growing concern both here and in Seoul.”

Major instability in the region last surfaced in 2010, when a torpedo sank the South Korean warship Cheonan, killing 46 sailors. Seoul blamed the attack on Pyongyang, which denies carrying it out. Also that year, the North fired artillery at Yeonpyeong, one of the five South Korean Islands, and killed four more people.

Ellen Kim of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said Pyongyang must be dissuaded from making provocations.

"If there’s any provocation like the Cheonan incident, South Korea will respond kinetically, and if there’s any miscalculations or any accident during this response, this could easily escalate into a larger conflict,” said Kim.

South Korea did not retaliate for the incidents in 2010. But South Korea's new president Park Geun-hye recently said she will "deal strongly with North Korea's provocations."

According to Klingner and Kim, North Korea has been so bellicose partly because it is angry about being hit with new U.N. sanctions. The sanctions were imposed after the North's long-range rocket test late last year and its nuclear test last month.

North Korea's "hard-line" approach

UN Security Council Resolution 2094

  • Condemns in strongest terms North Korea's ongoing nuclear activities
  • Imposes new financial sanctions to block transactions in support of illicit activities
  • Strengthens states' authority to inspect cargo, deny port, overflight access
  • Enables stronger enforcement of sanctions by U.N. member states
  • Imposes sanctions on new individuals and entities
North Korea has been railing against the new U.N. measures.   

As for North Korea's 28-year-old leader, Kim Jong Un, Ellen Kim said she hopes he understands the "danger of his actions" and is not a "risk taker." She noted he may be more "reckless" than his father, the late Kim Jong Il.

"We thought when he initially came into power he brought some changes, at the very surface level," said Kim. "So everybody was hoping that Kim Jong Un takes North Korea in a different direction. But now a lot of people are disappointed, and they don’t think Kim Jong Un is a reformer, and it seems like he’s going back to his father’s hardline policy in a much more dangerous direction.”

Klingner sounded pessimistic when asked if Kim Jong Un is surrounded by rational people who can influence him to back off.

"They are the same leaders, the same advisors who were in place when Kim Jong Il lashed out against South Korea, sinking a South Korean naval ship in South Korean waters, shelling a civilian island," he said. "So it's the same advisors around the new leader.”

Earlier this week, North Korea announced it had cut its last military hotline with South Korea. The North said such communication links are no longer necessary since "war may break out at any moment."

Klingner said it is unknown if Pyongyang is trying to communicate with Seoul possibly by using a back channel such as China, North Korea's top ally.
 
"There is a possibility the U.S. or South Korea can contact the North through what’s called the New York channel, the permanent mission that North Korea has to the U.N. in New York," Klingner said. "There’s also ways of passing messages via China. We don’t know if North Korea is accepting messages or initiating any messages.”

On Wednesday, a State Department spokesman said the U.S. remains "prepared to engage constructively" with Pyongyang provided it lives up to its international obligations and refrains from provocative behavior.

You May Like

Video Iran Nuclear Deal Becomes US Campaign Issue

Voters in three crucial battleground states - Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania - overwhelmingly oppose nuclear deal with Iran More

Al-Qaida's Syria Affiliate Reemerges

Jabhat al-Nusra has rebounded, increasingly casting itself as a critical player in battle for Syria’s future More

Lessons Learned From Katrina, 10 Years Later

FEMA chief Craig Fugate says key changes include better preparation, improved coordination among state, federal assistance agencies More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs