BY DANNY DE GRACIA AND LAUREN EASLEY – A week after the skies over Yeonpyeong were blackened by smoke from DPRK artillery shells, tensions continue to flare on the Korean peninsula. As ROK and US units began conducting live fire weapons exercises and other war games in the Yellow Sea, Pyongyang responded with a deployment of missiles along the Northern Limit Line and fired another barrage of artillery into the ocean areas near Yeongyeong. US Air Force E-8 Joint STARS aircraft, which use sophisticated AN/APY-7 doppler radar to monitor and scan ground objects over a 19,305 square mile area are reported by several news agencies as now monitoring the North’s movements.
While Asian markets and currencies continue to slide over investor fears of war, China’s Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Wu Dawei announced Saturday that “a series of complicated factors have recently emerged on the Korean peninsula” and called for “six party talks” to commence in December between the divided Koreas, China, Japan and the United States, but ROK President Lee Myung-bak responded coolly to the offer, though not outright rejecting the possibility of negotiations. In a special Monday address, the South Korean head of state shared stern words, noting that “our people know that any more tolerance and patience will only fan bigger provocations” and went on to promise Pyongyang sure retaliation for any future attacks.
The Nov. 23rd shelling of Yeonyeong is the latest in a string of hostilities between the DPRK and ROK which includes the alleged sinking of the Pohang-class Cheonan corvette on March 26, 2010 in the nearby waters and two major naval battles in 2002 and 1999. The Nov. 23rd artillery exchange which killed four South Koreans and may have killed or wounded an undetermined number of North Koreans has been termed by some observers to be the fiercest fighting the divided Koreas have seen since the end of the war in 1953. According to a report by the Council on Foreign Relations, between 1960 and 2010 some 1,436 incidents between the Koreas have occurred and over 1,554 DPRK, ROK or US military and civilians have been killed.
The North, which has also threatened to respond to any escalations, is believed to have multiple units on standby. At Hwangju Air Base, MiG-23ML Flogger interceptors are forward deployed and have been conducting combat air patrols along the Northern Limit Line. The Flogger, which has a range of 1,750 miles and can fly at speeds up to twice the speed of sound is an aging aircraft which combat against the United States during the 1980s when two F-14 Tomcats bested Libyan MiG-23s in the Gulf of Sidra. Countering the DPRK’s MiG-23s are highly advanced air forces on both the US and ROKAF orders of battle. Carrier Air Wing 5 which is attached to the USS George Washington has F/A-18 Super Hornet strike fighters equipped with powerful radars and the capability to engage enemy aircraft beyond visual range at distance of 30 miles or more with AIM-120 AMRAAM air to air missiles. ROKAF forces are equipped with indigenously produced KF-16s and state of the art Boeing F-15K Slam Eagles which use AN/AAS-42 infrared search and track sensors for target detection and a Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System which allow its pilots faster reaction time in identifying and attacking enemy aircraft.
The DPRK’s S-75 Dvina surface to air missiles which are also stationed towards the Northern Limit Line have an estimated range of 28 miles and can hit targets flying in excess of 65,000 feet. Known by US and NATO forces as the SA-2 Guideline, the missiles gained notoriety in 1960 for shooting down a CIA U-2C spyplane piloted by Francis Gary Powers. The North also fields Hai Ying-1 land attack cruise missiles which are similar to the Russian P-15 Termit anti-ship missile and can deliver a conventional 130-pound high explosive warhead against a naval or ground target some 52 miles away. Both weapon systems, though antiquated, could cause significant damage and loss of life if used, triggering a higher stage of escalation.
The ongoing crisis has also caused the US dollar to see small gains, edging against both the Euro and several Asian currencies. America’s ongoing fiscal instability is perhaps what makes the drama between the divided Koreas most terrifying of all: already a number of voices are calling for war as a means to strengthen the dollar and delay the collapse of the US economy.
While the outlook for the Korean peninsula remains uncertain, one thing is clear: a bad economy will certainly ensure more wars and rumors of war to come.
Danny de Gracia, II is a political scientist and the founder of Free and Living Conservative. Lauren Easley is a political scientist and a former policy advisor at the Hawaii State Legislature. Reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org