Crisis is Korean peninsula

Two civilians and two marines were left dead following the artillery attack of the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong on Nov. 23. The attack comes at a difficult time as regional tensions have been escalating across the Korean peninsula.

Having claimed civilian life, the artillery attack on South Korean territory represents the most aggressive form of hostility since the ceasefire armistice was signed in 1953, effectively ending the conflict.

“You have to look at it in the context of the whole conflict,” explained Patrick Dennis, political science professor at Wilfrid Laurier University. While the armistice negotiations were finally concluded in 1954, the Korean War has never formally ended.

“Whenever there’s a ceasefire there’s always violations of that ceasefire. So for the past 60 years, these violations have occurred on both sides and increasingly, the North Koreans have become more provocative of their violations,” Dennis added.

The international community thought that the culmination of these violations occurred in March of this year with the torpedoing of the South Korean corvette, the Cheonan, which left 46 sailors dead.

“I think that the South Koreans have now reached their threshold of tolerance and so I’m sure they told the Americans that the next act that will result in the loss of civilian lives, be it military or civilian, will be met with a proportional response,” explained Dennis.

Anti-North Korea protests on the streets of Seoul have come to represent the aggravated frustration of South Korean citizens with the ongoing conflict. “This is not just an emotional issue. This is a cumulative effect of 60 years of taking it on the chin and so it seems we’ve reached a tipping point,” Dennis explained.

“That tipping point, in my view, is to a wider, more intense open conflict or a new round of diplomacy that will signal perhaps not only a transition of leadership in North Korea but a transition in the whole South Korean-North Korean relationship.”

Throughout the 60 years of occupation, the Americans have played a very critical diplomatic role in keeping the South Koreans from overreacting.

However, the country is under an immense amount of pressure and as a result of the recent conflict, defense minister Kim Tae-young resigned. Amid this transitionary period, South Korea has been able to revise their rules of engagement that has been long overdue for a re-evaluation.

“I don’t think that there is any question now that in a North Korean attack, certainly one that results in casualties in any kind, will result in the proportional use of force,” Dennis added.

Given the capacity of recent events, there has been a multilateral push to resume emergency six- party talks.

“That would be good to get them all back to the table even if they didn’t resolve anything. As Churchill said, ‘it’s better to jaw, jaw, jaw than to war, war, war.’ And that’s certainly the case with the current crisis on the Korean peninsula,” Dennis concluded.