North Korea backs down

North Korea claimed that they would attack the South two or three times more strongly than it did on November 23 if South Korea conducted another live fire artillery exercise on Yeonpyeong Island.  Well, the exercise has taken place.

The reaction?

“The revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK (North Korea) did not feel any need to retaliate against every despicable military provocation, like one taking revenge after facing a blow.”

I noted last week that Seoul’s increased military readiness and willingness to hit North Korea hard if attacked again changed the situation on the peninsula, saying that “If precedent is any guide, Seoul’s posture lessens the chance that the North will actually attack.”

That indeed seems to be the case, despite Pyongyang’s bluster before yesterday’s drill.

The problem now for Seoul is maintaining this level of deterrence over the long haul.  The North Koreans will no doubt be looking for any weakness or any sign of a lack of diligence on the part of South Korean forces in to exploit with another act of aggression.  The Kim Jong-il regime (or, more specifically, the successor Kim Jong-un) needs ‘victories’ like the November 23 attack on Yeonpyeong Island and the March 26 sinking of the warship Cheonan to maintain moral and support of the military despite declining moral and preparedness caused by decades of economic decline.

So we know two important things to consider when making policy decisions regarding North Korea:

  1. The North Koreans will continue to seek opportunities to engage in military aggression against South Korea over the next several years during the transfer of power to Kim Jong-un.
  2. They do not dare attack a South Korea that is ready and willing to immediately hit the North back with disproportionate force, something that could break the already declining moral of the North Korean military*.

Seoul is going to have to keep those factors in mind as it sets military and political policy towards Pyongyang over the next several years.

*This would have to involved hitting those North Korean units directly involved with attacks against the South or infiltrating South Korean territory so that the North Korean soldiers involved know that they were placed in danger by the orders of their superiors.  Hitting North Korea units not involved in aggression against the South would conversely cause a unifying effect, increasing support for the Kim regime among rank-and-file soldiers.