Seoul Warns That North Korea’s Leadership Could Be Target
By Choe Sang-Hun, NY Times, March 6, 2013
SEOUL, South Korea—The South Korean military warned on Wednesday that if provoked by North Korea, it would strike the North’s “command leadership,” in a sharp escalation of a war of words between the two Koreas that hinted at a direct attack on the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
The warning came a day after the North Korean People’s Army threatened to attack the United States and its South Korean ally with “lighter and smaller nukes”—an outburst provoked by the United Nations Security Council’s consideration of tough new sanctions on Pyongyang as punishment for its February nuclear blast.
North Korea’s typically strident rhetoric has grown bolder following its successful recent tests of a long-range rocket and nuclear device, especially in the past week as the United States and South Korea started their joint annual military exercises.
South Korea usually does not respond to North Korean tongue-lashing, dismissing it as propaganda. But amid fears among officials and analysts here that North Korea might provoke a deadly skirmish to shake the new government of President Park Geun-hye and destabilize the region, the South Korean military called a news conference on Wednesday to deliver one of its most categorical public warnings in in recent months.
“If North Korea attempts a provocation that threatens the lives and security of our people, our military will forcefully and decisively strike not only the origin of provocation and its supporting forces but also its command leadership,” said Maj. Gen. Kim Yong-hyun, chief operations officer at the military’s Office of Joint Chiefs of Staff. “We make it clear that we are all prepared.”
The two Koreas’ front-line units exchanged artillery fire in 2010 after North Korea launched a barrage against a South Korean border island. That same year, 46 South Korean sailors were killed when their navy corvette sank in an explosion that the South blamed on a North Korean torpedo attack. South Korea has since vowed to strike back with a deadlier force if North Korea provokes again.
Despite such warnings, however, officials feared that the young Mr. Kim, or a new crop of ambitious North Korean generals under him, might be emboldened by their nuclear weapons to believe that they could get way with new provocations with impunity.
“We read their confidence in nuclear weapons behind their aggressive, more provocative rhetoric and actions recently,” said Chang Yong-seok, an analyst at the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University. “There is a higher possibility of North Korea attempting a provocation, something that would involve limited causalities but have all the impact that one expects from an armed provocation.”
Threats to attack the United States and South Korea are almost a daily fare in North Korea, where its governing “military first” ideology is based on a belief that the isolated country was on the verge of invasion and must sacrifice to build a strong military to assure independence and prosperity.