Saturday, October 07, 2006

Tension in the DMZ

By Michael J.W. Stickings

As I reported yesterday, North Korea may be planning to conduct a nuclear test sometime "in the future". The tension along the DMZ that separates the two Koreas is palpable:

South Korean troops have fired warning shots at soldiers from the North amid rising tension over North Korean plans to test a nuclear weapon.

Early reports suggest that about 40 shots were fired when soldiers crossed into the demilitarised zone.

It is unclear why North Korean soldiers entered the DMZ, but, obviously, the situation is such that even the slightest twitch could provoke full-fledged war. Indeed, the North may even be trying to goad the South, and the U.S., into war. Perhaps that's precisely Kim's strategy.

As Robert Kaplan notes in his excellent piece in the October Atlantic (subscription only, but try to get hold of it) on what could happen "When North Korea Falls," military action against the North could actually backfire, splitting the U.S.-South Korea alliance, turning public opinion against the U.S., which would be blamed for instigating the conflict, and keeping the North "afloat" with post-conflict international aid. (The chief beneficiary of the fall of Kim's regime will likely be China, Kaplan argues, and I suspect that China's position would be strengthened further if the U.S. acted militarily.)

Regardless, according to the BBC, "a nuclear test could come as early as this weekend". Even if it doesn't, it could come soon.

The tension isn't likely to dissipate either before or after a test. Which means that war will continue to be just a twitch away.

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