Strike first if you suspect that the North will attack, Seoul tells generals
South Korea vowed yesterday that it would launch a pre-emptive attack against any imminent threat of nuclear or missile attack from North Korea, as the quarrel between the two enemies escalated.
The counter-threat, by the South’s new president, Park Geun Hye, and her defence minister, came after days of intensifying verbal menaces from North Korea and as the country’s puppet parliament, the Supreme People’s Assembly, met in the capital, Pyongyang.
“The reason for the military’s existence is to protect the country and the people from threats,” President Park said at South Korea’s defence ministry. “If any provocations happen against our people and our country, it should respond powerfully in the early stage without any political considerations.”
Ms Park has already authorised her commanders to respond immediately to North Korean provocation without prior consultation with the Government. “As commander-in-chief of the armed forces, I will trust the military’s judgment on abrupt and surprise provocations by North Korea, as it is the one that directly faces off against the North,” she said. “Please carry out your duty of guarding the safety of the people without getting distracted even a bit.”
Her defence minister, Kim Kwan Jin, made explicit the threat of pre-emptive retaliation if Pyongyang carried out its threat to use missiles or nuclear warheads against the South. “We will . . . establish a so-called ‘active deterrence’ aimed at neutralising the North’s nuclear and missile threats quickly.”
After the deployment of B2 stealth bombers last week, the US on Sunday sent F22 stealth fighter jets to take part in the extensive annual military exercises that the US and South Korea are presently conducting.
North Korea routinely denounces the exercises, codenamed Foal Eagle — but the level of verbal ferocity this year has reached levels unusual even by its own high standards.
After United Nations condemnation of its third nuclear test in February, the Government of the young leader, Kim Jong Un, has renounced the armistice that brought an end to the Korean War, cut off its hotlines with Seoul and threatened nuclear missile attack against the US mainland — a feat that foreign analysts agree is impossible, given the North’s existing levels of missile technology. On Saturday, the state media announced that North Korea was in a “state of war” as a result of the military exercises — although South Korea has not reported unusual military activity. Despite the headlines they have created around the world, the announcement did not lead North Korean television news.
Perhaps the strongest indication that Pyongyang is not ready for a complete breakdown in relations is its failure to interfere with the operation of a join industrial zone in the North Korean city of Kaesong, a source of valuable income for the impoverished regime.
“If the puppet traitor group continues to mention the Kaesong industrial zone is being kept operating and damages our dignity, it will be mercilessly shut off and shut down,” a statement on the state-run Korean Central News Agency said. But yesterday South Korean workers commuted across the border as usual.
Pyongyang knows that an attack on the US or its troops in the South would provoke a massive response that would overwhelm its huge, but ill-equipped, army and destroy Mr Kim’s Government. Much more likely is a smaller, surprise attack on South Korea of the kind that Pyongyang has got away with in the past.
Three years ago, 46 South Korean sailors died after the naval ship Cheonan was struck by what Seoul insists was a North Korean submarine-launched torpedo. Later in 2010 a North Korean artillery barrage killed four people on an island close to the sea border with the North.
Apart from brief retaliatory shelling of the artillery positions, the South made no military response to these attacks, and the South Korean president at the time, Lee Myung Bak, was widely criticised for displaying weakness. Ms Park, like her predecessor a political conservative, will not want to follow his example.
Yesterday in Pyongyang, North Korea convened the Supreme People’s Assembly, a notional parliament that does nothing more than publicly endorse decisions of the inner leadership. It appointed as premier Pak Pong Ju, who has a reputation as a reformer by North Korean standards.
He last held the post between 2003 and 2007 and oversaw a partial liberalisation of North Korea’s state-controlled farms.