Friday, 5 July 2013

Korean Peninsula - Simmering tensions

Kaesong industrial complex, North/South Korea
Press handout/Reuters 

The Korean Peninsula is no stranger to heightened tensions. With the recent agreement by North Korea to re-engage talks with South Korea over its shared industrial part, Kaesong factory, boiling tensions between the two adversarial states may begin to relatively cool in the forthcoming weeks.

On July 5, North Korea agreed to engage in dialogue with South Korea in beginning the process of reopening the Kaesong industrial complex. This comes after a few months diplomatic breakdown between the two nations after North Korea's discontentment in the annual joint South Korea-United States military exercises. These exercises include tactical, maritime maneuvers and are intended to maximize and solidify the agility to respond to any violent aggression in the Korean Peninsula. As a result, North Korea engaged in a series of aggressive rhetoric and hyperbole aimed at the South Korean government and the United States, famously including to turn Seoul into a "sea of flames". Henceforth, North Korea in front of the world and to its population made a series of assertions that it was ready for conflict and highlighted this by cutting the "hotline" between North and South Korea - the last line of diplomatic communication. Finally, North Korea failed to recognize the Armistice Agreement as a legitimate document, yet the South Korean's population reaction to this was one of apathy.

North Korea continuously oscillates the tensions, friction and intensity in the Korean Peninsula and it has very good reason to do so. The North Korean are relatively weak with little technological innovation, a starving population, scarce resources, poor infrastructure and a military doctrine that predates to the Soviet operational methodology of blitzkrieg. Their military, whilst comparatively sizable, is undisciplined and lacks the equipment necessary to fight a modern conflict. As such, it engages in psychological warfare with the West, purposely being unpredictable and ambivalent towards its nuclear weapons programme so that the US response is one of caution. However, their strategic placement of heavy artillery pointed directly at Seoul would severely destabilize the region and the world economy. With US strategic attention turning to Asia in light of Afghanistan withdrawal in 2014, the US naval base in Guam which situates a missile defence shield overlooking the South China Sea will not go anytime soon.

But there's only so long North Korea can last without any external assistance and/or interference. Pyongyang has a starving population to contend with but has to be seen as a strong entity to the population which is main force behind the totalitarian regime's rhetoric and not the battle of anti-imperialism as it suggests. The Kaesong industrial complex brings North Korea $90m or revenue each year and employs approximately 53,000 North Korean workers.  Not only is it seen as economic incentive - boarding necessity - for North Korea it is also seen as a diplomatic and symbol for the region, echoing the former half of the last century of when Korea was united, albeit under the occupying force of Japan. 

Nevertheless, North Korea's re-engagement in diplomatic discourse with the South illustrates that necessity triumphs over rhetoric and highlights the importance of Kaesong to the North Korean economy. With very little revenue coming anywhere else due to a multitude of trade restrictions reinforced by UN Resolution 2094  and a starving population to accommodate to an extent, Pyongyang has very little options on the table.

You can follow Geopolitical Compass for real-time updates @GeoPoliticalCon

No comments:

Post a Comment