The yearly military exercises that involve some 200,000 American and South Korean troops begins on Monday. U.S. officials state that the computer-simulated war games are “entirely non-provocative in nature.” The North Koreans have warned that if the “enemy intrudes even 0.0001 millimeters into the waters” of North Korea they should make a powerful retaliatory strike. At least 4 people were killed on the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong in 2010 during an exchange of artillery fire during that year’s military exercises.
The strong rhetoric might mean that the young regime is asserting itself after the handover of power. Diplomats and analysts are also noting that after the death of Kim Jong-Il, little appears to have changed in the north with regard to negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear program. It is believed that North Korea has been developing missiles and could have up to eight nuclear weapons.
Recent talks aimed at bringing North Korea to the negotiating table on its nuclear program ended with little change last week and no concrete results.
America Abroad’s Ray Suarez talks to Victor Cha from Georgetown University and Scott Snyder from the Council on Foreign Relations about what Kim Jong-Il’s death will mean for future relations between America and the two Koreas.
Ray Suarez: There’s been been speculation during the presidential campaign that the United States has it within its power to keep North Korea from strengthening its hand as a nuclear power. Can the United States stop North Korea from going nuclear?
Scott Snyder: I think that the right way of saying it is that the United States has not stopped North Korea from going nuclear. We have a dilemma here: the reality on the ground is different from what the U.S. government says it’s willing to accept. The prospect of achieving any kind of rollback – in the near term as Victor has suggested – is not very positive. That’s one reason why the administration has been trying to get the North Koreans to come back to where they were before [the administration] engages in talks. It’s awfully harsh to erase a nuclear test, or a missile test. It’s hard to get back to the status quo ante because the North Koreans believe they’ve changed the strategic reality in their favor.
Ray Suarez: We saw South Korea reach out to the north in the weeks after Mr. Kim’s death about reopening a dialogue with the North. The ruling party in South Korea announced its platform for upcoming parliamentary elections that included a softened stance for North Korea. Has there been any coherent response from the north to those overtures?
Victor Cha: There has been a response and it’s been thus far entirely negative. They don’t really seek the desire to work with the current government. I’m sure they’re going to watch very closely the elections in South Korea. We have two elections in South Korea this year: we have a legislative election and then we have the presidential elections. North Korea is going to be watching that very closely probably with the hope that they can somehow get a progressive government in power in South Korea that will go back to the policies of unconditional engagement that Scott described earlier. I think right now they are in a ‘wait-and-see’ mode. But at the same time, they would love to see a progressive government returned to power in South Korea.