North Korean Army soldiers look on as a South Korean Army soldier stands guard at Panmunjom, March 6, 2009. (Source: AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon, Pool)

North Korean Army soldiers look on as a South Korean Army soldier stands guard at Panmunjom, March 6, 2009. (Source: AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon, Pool)

As expected, the North Koreans walked out on the military talks they begged to have with the South after being told that they would have to apologise for the attack on the Cheonan destroyer and strike against Yeonpyeong. North Korea’s mouthpiece, the Korean Central News Agency, released a scathing tirade against the ‘traitors’ in the south and ruled out further dialogue. This petulant behavior is nothing new, but it has observers on edge.

While there has been no change in the North’s military disposition following the collapse of the talks, recent military exercises focused on invading the South Korean-controlled islands in the Yellow Sea surely have the ROK military concerned:

“Currently, we have not detected any meaningful movements from North Korean military,” said an official at the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). “The North Korean military has carried out winter exercises as usual.

“But we are doing everything possible to ensure our combat readiness to deal with any contingency,” the JCS official said.

Many of South Korea’s news outlets published interviews that suggest that further provocations are likely. The Korea Times reported:

“The North could adopt brinkmanship tactics again, instead of pushing for dialogue, to get what it needs,” a Cheong Wa Dae source said on condition of anonymity. [...] It could take a nuclear test, launch missiles or attack our military and citizens. We should consider all possibilities and be fully prepared for potential provocations by the North.”

This comes as the US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence that, as RTT reports, “further provocations from the North were apparently meant to enhance the global image of its designated leader Kim Jong-un. The North’s artillery barrage on the border island of Yeonyepong in November was seemingly part of this strategy.”

“(The brinkmanship) is meant in part to continue burnishing successor-designate Kim Jong-un’s leadership and military credibility among regime elites, ” Clapper said.

Yonhap looked to the beyond the immediate crisis and raised the possibility of a nuclear test in the coming year:

North Korea could conduct its third nuclear test between late this year and early next year if the regime feels the need for a breakthrough for its power succession plan or for the standoff over its atomic programs, a state-run think tank analyst claimed Friday.

Yun Deok-min, a professor at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security, told a security forum in Seoul that the communist nation could go ahead with a test to sharpen its plutonium bomb technology or it could test a bomb made of highly enriched uranium.

Meanwhile, the Chosun Ilbo looked at the 122mm multiple rocket launcher shells that hit the island of Yeonpyeong, raising some horrifying possibilities in the process:

South Korean military officials believe more than half of North Korea’s MRLs carry chemical rounds that can cause even greater damage. The South Korean military also fields U.S.-made 227-mm and Korean-made 130-mm MLRS. But in terms of number, the South Korean military is outgunned by the North with around 200 MLRS as against the North’s 5,100 MRLs.

Luckily, though, it seems the ROKAF is preparing to fight this threat with American-made Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs) - smarter-than-average bombs.

The South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung Hwan will visit Tokyo next week to discuss the North with Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara. It will be interesting to see whether, or how much, they discuss their nations’ burgeoning defense ties – clearly the outcome that the US desires given North Korea’s continuing intransigence.

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A former contributor to World Intelligence (Japan Military Review), James Simpson joined Japan Security Watch in 2011, migrating with his blog Defending Japan. He has a Masters in Security Studies from Aberystwyth University and is currently living in Kawasaki, Japan. His primary interests include the so-called 'normalization' of Japanese security (i.e. militarization), and the political impact of the abduction issue with North Korea.
James Simpson has 254 post(s) on Japan Security Watch