It looks like the North Koreans are up to their old tricks again. They’ve fired live artillery shells into disputed waters off the west coast of the Koreas south of a sea boundary; South Korea claims those waters, and so does the North. South Korean Marines responded by firing three hundred shells across the boundary into North Korean waters. This, according to the North Koreans, was in response to a combined South Korean-American joint military exercise, which the DPRK claims is an aggressive exercise practice for invading the North. The Americans and the ROK claim it’s just a joint military exercise for defensive training purposes. One would think by virtue of the fact that this exercise, named Foal Eagle, is an annual event that has been ongoing since 2001, that alone should have convinced the North Koreans that there is no threat to them. This is what militaries from various countries around the world do on a regular basis. It’s simply a normal part of readiness training. But I think the North Koreans know this, and it’s not the reason for their bluster.
What it appears to be is nothing more than that the North Koreans are having one of their frequent temper tantrums, though, which they seem to do on a more or less annual basis. This is getting to be a predictable pattern for them. Think about it, about once every year or so, the North decides it’s time to do a little sabre-rattling, culminating in a show of bravado of one sort or another. In this case, they not only fired artillery rounds across a sea boundary between the two nations, they also threatened another nuclear test. This, naturally, was accompanied by harsh words aimed at both South Korea and the United States. Although their words this time haven’t been quite so disturbing, they have been, as usual, undiplomatic, and show the North’s complete ignorance of restrained language, and it’s both unbecoming and worrisome of the government of any country to use the kind of language the North has been spewing.
Consider what North Korean military official Yun Jong Bum said of the South Koreans: “The boneheads appear to have completely forgotten the fact that Yeonpyeong Island was smashed by our military’s bolt of lightning a few years ago.” Troubling words indeed when you realize he probably wouldn’t have said those things without approval from his Dear Leader Kim Jong-un. This is not wise or prudent language coming from the highest echelons of a government. Can you imagine Barack Obama, David Cameron, Benjamin Netanyahu, or Vladimir Putin using that sort of irresponsible language? No, I can’t either, but coming from Kim Jong-un or one of his high-level subordinates, it’s gotten to the point of not surprising us anymore.
So why are the North Koreans having their little tantrum again? More than likely because they want some aid from the United States; either food, financial, or, as I read somewhere, attracting foreign investment, although I can’t imagine why any company would possibly want to open facilities there. Basically, the North Koreans wouldn’t turn down anything that helps keeps them going. It seems to be their main goal whenever they get belligerent. It’s a funny way to ask for aid, you might think. So do I, but then the North Koreans seem to have a distinct lack of understanding of how to go about asking for anything, so they don’t ask – they demand, as if it were owed to them. Another idea they don’t seem to grasp is that in order to get something, they have to give something – it’s called exchanging value for value, and is the way every type of business is conducted around the globe every day. Just look at their circumstances – they are a starving country; the average citizen of North Korea doesn’t have anywhere near the life or standard of living that you and I have. The reason for this is that the majority of everything goes to government officials and the military. After all, they have to keep their military fed, trained, and equipped, don’t they?
Just as an aside, have you ever seen a night-time satellite photo of the two Koreas? The difference is shocking. Whereas the South is full of lights and obviously has a vibrant, thriving economy, the North is, for the most part, almost completely dark. Kim Jong-un and the rest of the leadership of the North must surely know their country is on the skids, but they are either too obtuse to do anything about it or just don’t care. I suspect the former.
According to the Congressional Research Service, between 1995 and 2008, the United States provided more than $1.3 billion in aid to North Korea. About 50% of that was food aid, and about 40% for energy assistance. Since 2009, though, there has been no aid from the United States after North Korea withdrew from talks involving their nuclear program, and also due to sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council over the North’s test of a long range missile in April and the test of their first nuclear device in May of that year.
My, my. When will North Korea learn? Don’t hold your breath – I’m certainly not holding mine, but I would urge the United States to not plan to resume aid to North Korea anytime soon. Some investments just don’t pay off.