South Korea’s military on Thursday fired a dozen of artillery rounds across the border in retaliation against what Seoul said were North Korean artillery strikes toward a South Korean loudspeaker that had been blaring anti-Pyongyang broadcasts. The North’s declaration is similar to its other fierce warlike rhetoric it used before in panic situations, including repeated threats to reduce Seoul to a “sea of fire” and the huge numbers of soldiers already stationed along the border means the area is always essentially in a “state of war”. This ritual of instability often sees such aggression escalate to the firing of ammunition, but this time it turned violent with exchange of artillery shells, pushing the cross-border tensions to dangerously high levels. No casualties were reported, though hundreds were evacuated from frontline towns.
The cold war spiked on the Korean Peninsula after two soldiers of a South Korean border patrol were seriously wounded by landmines earlier this month in the demilitarized zone that separates the two countries, sending military tensions soaring as it threatened to make Pyongyang pay a “harsh price”. South Korea has accused the North of planting mines, an allegation which the North denied. South Korea responded by resuming propaganda broadcasts across the border over huge loudspeakers that had been silent for over a decade. In 2004, both the rival nations agreed to dismantle their propaganda loudspeakers at the border. The truce went sideways after the landmine explosion. The North also reportedly resumed its broadcasting of anti-South propaganda, the same day South Korea started military exercises with the United States and other countries.
The last direct attack on the South was in November 2010 when North Korea shelled an island near the countries’ disputed maritime border, killing two civilians and two soldiers. South Korea responded by shelling North Korean gun positions, triggering fears of a full scale conflict. The United Nations said that it was one of the most serious things that had happened after the end of the Korean War. The two sides also traded fire in October 2014 after North Korea opened fire at balloons carrying anti-Pyongyang leaflets that were floating across the border from the South. Over the past six decades, skirmishes have flared repeatedly along land and sea borders. The rival Koreas remain technically at war till now because the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a ceasefire rather than a peace treaty.
Of course, a lot goes on inside the most secretive state on the planet under the leadership of Kim Jong-Un, whose ideology depends on a combination of propaganda and socialism to budge North Korea towards capitalism. While many people believe that North Korea is an irrational regime held together by a brutally repressive personality cult, this won’t change the way the country is run because he has no real public opinion to answer to its actions. And Kim’s latest actions proved he doesn’t like to stray too far from the spotlight when it comes to global conflict, which is why people weren’t terribly surprised when, a few days ago, the North threatened to invade U.S. mainland.
Meanwhile, the US State Department urged Pyongyang to avoid provoking any further escalation and said it remained “steadfast” in its commitment to defending its ally South Korea, which hosts 28,500 US troops. The North has given Seoul a deadline of Saturday evening to stop broadcasting cross-border propaganda, failing which will result in further military action. Seoul has vowed to continue the broadcasts. While threatening military action is nothing new for the regime, the recent actions suggest the conflict will only broaden, which neither side wants.