Korea on the brink

The BBC report on North Korea’s latest antics.

North Korea has fired artillery shells across its western maritime border, prompting return fire from South Korea, reports say.
Dozens of the shells landed on a South Korean island, witnesses say.
A television station said some houses on the island were on fire, and Yonhap news agency said that four South Korean soldiers had been hurt.
South Korea has issued its highest non-wartime alert in response to the incident, the defence ministry said.
Top leaders are meeting in an underground bunker in Seoul over the incident, Reuters news agency reported

This follows a fairly stunning report in yesterday’s Independent on the North’s nuclear capability.

The US is trying to restart moribund nuclear disarmament talks over North Korea, after the Communist leadership there showed off a new and highly sophisticated uranium enrichment plant.
An American scientist who was taken to see the facility called it “stunning” and “astonishingly modern”, casting doubt over the ability of UN sanctions to thwart or even slow down North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

Here’s the miltary balance from the International Institute for Strategic Studies.:
North Korea:

North Korea’s armed forces are composed of nearly 1.1m active-duty personnel and some 4.7m reserves, making them the world’s fifth largest active military force. Although precise conversion rates for the North Korean Won to the US dollar are difficult to ascertain, North Korea officially maintains an annual defence budget of about $1.5bn to support these forces, but some estimates of actual expenditure are more than three times as high, at around $5bn, which would translate to about 25% of North Korea’s GDP, estimated to be currently $20bn.
Pyongyang’s order of battle is equivalent to approximately 150 active duty brigades. That includes 27 infantry divisions, as well as some 15 independent armoured brigades, 14 infantry brigades, and 21 artillery brigades. North Korean forces are heavily dug-in with more than 4,000 underground facilities and bunkers near the DMZ and an estimated 20 tunnels dug under the DMZ, of which four have been found. There are also more than 20 Special Forces brigades, totaling about 88,000 troops, which could be deployed by air, sea and land to disrupt US and South Korean combat operations and attack civilian targets.

South Korea:

South Korea’s armed forces comprise approximately 686,000 active-duty troops and 4.5m reservists. Its active ground forces are about half the size of North Korea’s in terms of personnel, major equipment holdings and force structure, but its equipment is superior. South Korea’s air and naval forces are comparable in size to North Korea’s, and they possess much more modern and sophisticated equipment. Overall, South Korea’s armed forces have become one of the world’s more capable militaries and present a formidable forward defence against any possible attack by North Korea.
South Korea’s army consists of 11 corps, with 52 divisions and 20 brigades. They can deploy some 2,300 main battle tanks, 2,500 armoured personnel carriers and light tanks, 4,500 heavy-calibre artillery pieces, 6,000 mortars, an estimated 600 air defence guns, over 1,000 surface-to-air missiles, and about a dozen short­range surface-to-surface missiles. Usually, 12 army divisions are deployed along the DMZ in heavily fortified positions. The South Korean air force has 538 combat aircraft and 117 attack helicopters. Meanwhile, the South Korean navy includes 39 principal surface combatants, 20 submarines, 84 patrol and coastal combatants, 15 mine warfare ships, 12 amphibious vessels, and 60 naval combat aircraft. South Korea’s defence expenditure is several times more than that of North Korea. In 2002, as at average annual exchange rates, South Korea’s defence budget amounted to $13.2bn. However, this figure needs to be balanced as manpower costs in the South are greater.

This could turn out pretty nastily.
Update – CNN reports on the first death.

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  • RepublicanStones

    JJ, Im not stating the USA is always wrong, if only there was a bit more of a Rooseveltian ‘Good Neighbour Policy’ instead of the recently dominant Washington consensus bullshit…because the seedy underbelly of the US govt has a history long before the Iraq fiasco.

  • joeCanuck

    Try this. Location, location, location.


  • joeCanuck

    Soccer is such a great way to bring people together excepting the hooligans and political leaders, of course.

  • joeCanuck


    I believe you owe me an apology for those comments accusing me falsely of holding a position contrary to your own.. If you can read and, presumaby you can, it shouldn’t be too difficult to see your error. On the other hand, perhaps you just like to play the man.

  • Munsterview


    On how to loose ?

  • Alias

    I look forward to the day when Northern Ireland becomes an independent country and we can have a grand old time lobbing rockets at it in some grave dispute like North Korea and South Korea, but probably over the nationality of chickens and cattles or something a bit more mundane.

  • Harry Flashman

    What you are referring to is military aid to a key US ally in the region, assistance between allies is exactly that, not a “wink”. In your garbled mind you are mixing up the visit of Kissinger to Jakarta in the days before the invasion of East Timor when he, Kissinger, made it plain that whatever the Indonesians did was a concern for them and not the US who didn’t want to be seen to be involved.

    Ford, as you alleged, “winked” at no one.

  • Munsterview


    It should be noted that North Korea considers itself to be the True Communist Voice, the TCV!

    While such a TCV party may not be able to command 5% of the popular vote in an open democratic election, they do as a rule have a rather exalted idea of their own importance.

    This TCV attitude do lead to regular situations, where because of their relative unimportance in the overall scheme of things, they do need to ‘huff and puff and threaten to blow the house down’ ever so often, just to get their presence noted.

    It never happens however, totally harmless bunch, always a bit of a damp squib !

    Having thrown shapes and made a lot dire threats of taking over and changing the existing status quo, they do tend to fade back into the background yet again, forgotten by all until they attempt to talk up the next crisis and do the same thing all over again.

    If North Korea allowed blogging we would all see for ourselves just how foolish, out of touch with reality and devoid of ideas the TCV really are.

    Usually, well satisfied at having made a bit of noise and captured a few local and international headlines, they fade into the background, forgotten by all until the TCV finds or manafactures a situation to again throw shapes for attention.

    It will probably be no different this time……… I may even bet on it !

  • RepublicanStones

    Ehh Harry, Kissinger was accompanied on that trip On December 5, 1975, by Gerald Ford, whose own State Department official labelled the visit ‘The Big Wink’.
    And what did the US Ambassador mean when he stated that he hoped Suharto’s troops would be ‘effective quick and not use our equipment’. Surharto was accomadting enough to hold off the slaughter until Ford had left….just.
    The only thing garbled Harry is your attempt to pretend the US had no involvment, because the historical record says otherwise.

  • Harry Flashman

    There is a continuous belief among lefties that no nation acts unless the US tells them to. Indonesia would have invaded East Timor whether the United States wanted them to or not, the US was a spectator in the process, there was no need for nods or winks as Suharto fully intended to annexe East Timor no matter what Ford or Kissinger thought about the matter. Kissinger merely said that he didn’t want the US to be associated with the action knowing full well that the Indonesians would do what they wanted to do anyway.

    Just for the record there was no actual inherent immorality in the Indonesian annexation of East Timor (what the Indonesian forces did when they got there is of course a different matter). The Indonesian annexation of East Timor was as logical and uncontroversial at the time as India’s takeover of Goa, China’s annexation of Macao and Hong Kong, or for that matter what Spain or Argentina would do if the British ever pulled out of Gibraltar or the Falklands. Indeed unlike in the latter two cases there was acually a substantial proportion of East Timorese who welcomed Indonesian integration at the time.

    Try to get away from your undergraduate obsession with the US, they aren’t always the evil puppet masters, the CIA aren’t the omnipotent force of evil responsible for all the world’s ills. Despite your feverish imaginings sometimes sovereign nations are perfectly capable of doing things you disapprove of without having to be pre-authorised by Uncle Sam, Indonesia’s takeover of East Timor being a case in point.

  • Mick Fealty


    I’d hate to lose such a star performer, but we’ll have to if you don’t stay buckled down to the point and quit gratuitously slapping all around you.

    Them’s the rules. Like em, lump em, or sling yer hook?

  • RepublicanStones

    harry please give example where any lefty has said that no country acts unless the US tells them? Will we be waiting long for this evidence? Furthermpore as to your contention that Indonesia would have committed the slaughter it did with or without US approval, well unfortunately yet again, its not backed up by the evidence. Not only did Suharto get US approval, but he also got support, and not just in the form of military aid (with the US accounting for about 90% of Suharto’s armoury) As was reported by Jack Anderson –

    By December 3, 1975, an intelligence dispatch to Washington reported that “Ranking Indonesian civilian government leaders have decided that the only solution in the Portuguese Timor situation is for Indonesia to launch an open offensive against Fretilin, the leading East Timorese resistance movement.”
    But it was essential to neutralize the United States. For the Indonesian army relied heavily on U.S. arms which, under our laws, could not be used for aggression.
    As it happened, President Gerald Ford was on his way to Indonesia for a state visit. An intelligence report forewarned that Suharto would bring up the Timor issue and would “try and elicit a sympathetic attitude.”
    That Suharto succeeded is confirmed by Ford himself. The United States had suffered a devastating setback in Vietnam, leaving Indonesia as the most important American ally in the area. The U.S. national interest, Ford concluded, “had to be on the side of Indonesia.”
    Ford gave his tacit approval on December 6,1975… Five days after the invasion, the United Nations voted to condemn the attack as an arrant act of international aggression. The United States abstained. Thereafter, the U.S. delegate maneuvered behind the scenes to resist U.N. moves aimed at forcing Indonesia to give up its conquest.’

    Now Harry me aul flower, you may be asking yourself who that mysterious official was who was working behind the scenes to prevent the UN from being able to end the slaughter. Well it was the US Ambassador to the UN, one Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who has admitted –

    ‘The United States wished things to turn out as they did, and worked to bring this about. The Department of State desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective in whatever measures it undertook. This task was given to me, and I carried it forward with no inconsiderable success.’

    Seems like a thoroughly nice chap, eh Harry 😉
    The fact that Suharto was the US’ man, and his record of slaughter in Indonesia itself well known before he set his sights on East Timor, means the US knew full well, what his form was and the likely consequences of his invasion of East Timor, but as evidenced above, the US not only approved, provided most of the arms and turned a blind eye, but also worked to prevent an end to it.

    Now then, Harry if you’d be so kind as to show me the figures for this ‘substantial proportion of East Timorese who welcomed Indonesian integration at the time.’ And which you think makes the annexation of territory a moral thing to do. I’d also like you to point where I have claimed that the CIA are an omnipotent force of evil responsible for all the world’s ills. Because the fact that there are leftist govts sprouting up in Latin America would demonstrate they are not omnipotent (not for the want of trying mind you), of course the best thing to happen to Latin America in recent years has been the wars in the middle east, which meant Uncle Sam took his eye of the ‘backyard ball’ so to speak. Indonesia is a good example however of how on occasion the CIA has actually set US foreign policy, tail wagging the dog as it were. To accuse somebody interested in an honest appraisal of US foreign policy of having an ‘undergraduate obsession’ perhaps demonstrates more about you Harry. The US is not the beacon of justice and democracy people who get all doe-eyed at the stars and stripes, claim it to be. It is a country whose foreign policy is mainly dictated by self-interest, even the most cursory glance at its history would show you his harry. I nowhere claimed they were the evil puppet masters responsible for all the worlds ills either, and the fact your last opinion piece (because thats all it was Harry, your opinion and light on facts) took aim at me, and insinuated things which i didn’t even say is quite laughable. But we needed a cheer after the last weeks fiscal fiasco.

  • Harry Flashman

    “It is a country whose foreign policy is mainly dictated by self-interest,”

    Like every other country in the world.

    Fortunately the US’s interests are usually more beneficial to the rest of the world than that of, for example, China, Russia, France or any number of other major nations. But then the fact that you live in a democracy with the freedom to spout off your half informed opinions on the wonderful and free internet (US gift to the world) tells me that you kinda know that already.

  • RepublicanStones

    See Harry, therein lies the problem. Apart from not really having a handle on the history of US policy, you fall into the same trap successive US govt’s, that being, thinking you know what the ‘rest of the world’ thinks and wants. If you are under the impression that US interests are beneficial to a villager in Latin America who has been forced off his home to make way for some conglomerate to rape his land, then you must have some persuasive language i haven’t heard. If you think US interests merge with some Arab who lives in a country with a tin-pot dictator installed or propped up by the US govt, then I’d love to hear you tell him/her how much better off they are because they are shrouded in the benign care of Uncle Sam. Finally Harry, the only one who has half informed opinions, is quite obviously, you, me aul flower. I realise i piss you off by daring to hold up the dirty laundry of your beloved USA USA USA, but then I think it easier and less hypocritical to condemn other unsavoury govts and actions round the globe, if we also attempt to hold so called civilized nations to account as well. Thats just me Harry, crazy i know.

    (US gift to the world)

    Indeed Harry, and I suppose the fact you need algorithms to run computers means we should never criticise Iran either 😉