Posted on 22 December 2010.
With apologies to Mr Kubrick.
The last week of November saw what amounts to (another) unprovoked attack by North Korea on South Korea.
Well unprovoked as much as the two countries are still technically at war as CNN et alare fond of reminding their viewers.
But apart from a few hushed suggestions to make sure you know where your passport is if you are a visitor to South Korea, and the first civil defense exercise worth a damn in maybe the last five years, what was (or is) the effect of the North’s shelling of Yeonpyeong in late November?
You’d be forgiven for thinking nothing. But we’ll get to that. First some background. Three things could be said to have been at play prior to the shelling of Yeonpyeong on November 23rd.
Firstly The Yellow Sea (West Sea) that straddles the boarder between the two Koreas has been a constant point of contention since about the 1970s. The original border between the two Koreas (the blue A line in the map below) was created by the Armistice commission at the end of the Korean War. It’s major flaw is that it was established in the days when nations commanded a three nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The line is actually The Northern Limit Line (NLL) or the far north limit of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).
From the start of the 1970s North Korea began to violate the NLL. With the establishment of the 12 nautical mile EEZ North Korea, perhaps rightly, saw that it could control some very lucrative and fertile fishing waters if the border was redrawn. Thus, rather than using the NLL as a border, North Korea chose to recognize the Military Demarcation Line (DML) – literally the line that runs through the middle of the DMZ splitting North from South Korea – as the boarder and has done so officially since 1999 while paradoxically maintaining the terms f the armistice that keeps 5 of the western islands under the control of The United Nations.
The MDL is noted in the above map by the red A line and you can see how it skirts around Yeonpyeong (1), Baengnyeong (2) and Daecheong (3) Islands.
Since, from the point of view of The United Nations Command (UNC), nothing has changed, South Korea (and the US) still recognize (the blue) NLL as the border
Secondly was another incident in waters around Baengnyeong that happened in March this year – The sinking of the Republic of Korea Navy Corvette Chonan – officially blamed on a North Korean torpedo fired from a midget submarine.
The third factor at play is North Korea’s growing Nuclear Weapons program. North Korea is known to have a handful of Nuclear devices and are working hard to miniaturize the technology for deployment on its considerable arsenal of short and medium range missiles and artillery You’ll recall the North’s Missile tests late last year. In addition, just prior to the bombardment, North Korea again reiterated it’s desire for Nuclear weapons and unveiled it’s continuing efforts to enrich uranium.
A fourth factor at play is the fact North Korea is ruled by the world’s only dynastic Stalinist regime which has the temperament of a small child prone to throwing its proverbial toys out of the proverbial pram if it doesn’t get its own way. In Geopolitical terms this is known as “Brinksmanship”. Others might call it “being a bit of a dick”
23 November 2010
It was a not-so-sunny late autumn day when North Korea used coastal artillery batteries to bombard Yeonpyeong Island. Was the attack unprovoked? (You’ll notice my use of italics so far). Well that kind of depends on your point of view.
On the South side there were two military exercises scheduled for the 23rd. One – the so-called Hoguk exercise – a joint drill between The Korean Armed Forces and the US and the other – a monthly artillery drill conducted on Yeonpyeong which usually saw artillery fired southward (as opposed to towards or into areas considered by the North as their territorial waters). Indeed a Colonel on Yeonpyeong reported firing shells to the South East towards Incheon as part of the monthly drill.
At 8am on the 23rd North Korea sent a telex to the South politely enquiring as to the nature of the Hoguk exercise (who uses a Telex?) and whether or not it was an invasion of North Korea (Who asks if you are invading them?).
Two hours later the monthly firing exercise began.
At 2:34 on the afternoon North Korean coastal artillery based on Mudo opened up on Yeonpyeong in two waves each lasting about 10 minutes. The North is said to have deployed 122mm MLRS or Multiple Rocket Launcher System. Here is a rendering of The North’s “Grad” MRLS based on the Russian Katjusha (2nd picture).
The North’s coastal artillery batteries are designated HARTS or Hardened Artillery Site. Google Earth provides us with a wealth of information when it comes to these installations north of the DMZ. The ones on Mudo and Kaemori which engaged Yeonpyeong probably look something like this:
Or from ground level:
In all the north fired about 150 rounds, with 60 of them falling on Yeonpyeong. After dispatching various aircraft to the scene to make sorties of the area South Korean artillery returned fire and the highest military alert “Jinditgae Hana” (think DEFCON 1) was issued. South Korean Marines on Yeonpyeong sent 50 shells sailing northward using 155mm K-9 Howitzer self propelled artillery:
The K-9 (foreground) and the K55 automatic ammunition supply vehicle – built by Samsung!
This return temporarily halted the North’s firing but a second volley of 20 shells soon landed on Yeonpyeong with The South responding with another 50 rounds before South Korea sent another telex (!?) demanding a halt to the shelling.
The whole exchange lasted just over 2 hours and looked something like this:
A more “Boy’s Own” rendering might have you think that it looked more like this:
[Image: Donga Ilbo] (Click to embiggen)
Video showing a (very lucky) individual and shells landing on Yeonpyeong
In the aftermath of the shelling of Yeonpyeong two Republic of Korea Marines were killed, six seriously injured and 10 treated for minor injuries.
In addition two civilians were killed and the vast majority of the Island’s population were evacuated to Incheon and the mainland.
Marine Seargent Seo Jeong Wu and PFC Moon Gwang Wuk were afforded military honours at their funerals for their defense of South Korea.
The shelling of Yeonpyeong reminds us that indeed because the 1950-1953 Korean war ended only in an armistice the two sides (well North Korea and The UN) are still at war and this of course isn’t the first clash on or around the disputed western sea boarder. A number of skirmishes took place in the late 1990s and of course the RoK Navy corvette Chonan was sunk in March this year purportedly by a North Korean submarine.
Add to this the continuing changes and machinations that are going on in Pyongyang even as you read this surrounding the succession of Kim Jong Il and various factions competing for power and influence within te ruling elite and this probably won’t be the last. With nine months hindsight, observation and analysis (and speculation we can see that there were at least one hiring and one firing amongst Pyongyang’s gliterati as a result of the Chonan sinking)
And just as this might be seen as for domestic consumption north of the DMZ so too has been the response in the South. North Korea received widespread condemnation from around the world for it’s actions while Lee Myung Bak, South Korea’s president, threatened severe retaliation the next time something happened. Previously promised food aid (the first from the right wing conservative Lee regime) was promptly cancelled and UN resolutions were quickly sought.
The South Korean public, annoyed at the sloppy handling of the Chonan incident were quick to get behind Lee’s stronger stance, but still skeptical of it’s government’s reactions and dissemination of information concerning the incident. Defense minister Kim Tae Young resigned after being criticized for being too limp wristed in his reaction to the attack.
True to form The North came out with some wicked rhetoric stating that North Korea responded after the South had made a “reckless military provocation” by firing dozens of shells into North Korean territorial waters around Yeonpyeong Island from 13:00, as part of “war maneuvers”. It warned that “should the south Korean puppet group dare intrude into the territorial waters of the DPRK even 0.001 mm, the revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK will unhesitatingly continue taking merciless military counter-actions against it
A hundredth of a millimeter if you will!
The North later noted that the death of South Korean civilians on Yeonpyeong was regrettable but was a result of The Southern Puppet Regime’s use of them as human shields etc etc etc….
Officially North Korea shelled Yeonpyeong in response to the South’s shelling in its (The North’s) territorial waters. The real reason may never be known. I have suggested the power game motive above. Pusan National University’s Robert Kelly postulated that North Korea was instead trying to take some of the limelight off South Korea after it successfully staged a G20 leader’s meeting.
My primary guess is that this is a response to the recent international prestige taken by South Korea at the G20. The G20 highlighted North Korean backwardness in the same way that it highlighted that South Korea was a partner of this global elite organization, setting international rules and the North Koreans don’t like this
Elsewhere the toy-throwing hypothesis might have come into play – with North Korea piping up because it needs food aid. And in perhaps the most far fetched idea (or perhaps not) The JoongAng suggests that Dear Leader Comrade General™ Kim Jong Il ordered the attack himself having visited the Kaemori Artillery installation perhaps only a day before on 22 November with son and heir apparent Kim Jong Un
And meanwhile the residents of Yeonpyeong have probably spent more time than they would care to in the Island’s Bomb shelters and bunkers over the last couple of weeks as further drills and exercises have been undertaken.
And as for we expats, unless you actually live on Yeonpyeong it’s business as usual with more concern being focused on “worker’s favourite lunch dishes” in the local English press (I prefer the Doenjjang) than anything else.
And for the record, my passports are in my sock draw.