Commentary Magazine


Korean War Back On?

Today, North Korea declared it was repudiating agreements with South Korea, including the landmark 1991 reconciliation accord.  “Relations between the north and south have worsened to the point where there is no way or hope of correcting them,” stated Pyongyang’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea.  “They have reached the extreme point where the clash of fire against fire, steel against steel, has become inevitable.”

South Korea never signed the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War, so that document could not have been covered by the North’s announcement.  Today, Pyongyang called the armistice a “useless peace of paper.”  Yet it need not have bothered: in August 2006 North Korea issued a statement declaring it “null and void.”

Analysts assume that today’s statement is just a bid to get President Obama’s attention. But that may not be the case because Kim Jong Il looks as if he is getting a bit desperate.  He is in bad health, the concept of a succession to a younger-generation Kim is in doubt, his economy has been shrinking since 2006, and there is another severe food shortage.

Mr. Kim and his father have a history of using violence to upset status quos they thought to be unacceptable, so continually ignoring Pyongyang may not be the best strategy for us, especially at this crucial moment.  We have always let the Kim family pick the time and place for its next provocation, and that is what the current Kim could be doing now.

So if we want to keep the peace on the Korean peninsula, some nation needs to explain to Mr. Kim that his inflammatory words are unacceptable.  Of course, there is no better party to do that than the guarantor of the geopolitical order, the United States of America.

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