Late last night South Korea followed through with their planned artillery drills on the island Yeonpyeong. The drills went on for about 94 minutes with the South Korean military firing shells to the southwest of the island, away from the border of North Korea. The North Korean government had vowed to attack the South over the drills, but thus far the North has not responded militarily. Still, many anticipate some kind of reaction from the North Koreans in the coming days, weeks, or months.
When the South Koreas started firing live shells from Yeonpyeong those paying attention to the crisis waited anxiously to see how the North would respond. In a previous statement the North Koreans had said they would respond to any drills with even more force than the November 23rd artillery barrage which killed two South Korean marines and two civilians on the island of Yeonpyeong. Despite the threat, the North instead held back from taking any military action.
At the same time, the North Korean government released a statement condemning the exercise.
“South Korea’s military provocation was a product of their cunning scenario to deliberately lead the DPRK army’s counteraction to driving the situation on the Korean Peninsula to the brink of a war and thus save the U.S. Asia policy and strategy toward the DPRK from bankruptcy.”
While saying they did not “feel any need” to respond militarily, the North also stated that their forces will destroy South Korean and Untied States bases in the future. The last part of the statement is nothing new, as the North has many times pledged to destroy the United States and South Korean military in a future war, but the threat takes on more importance following the artillery drills last night.
According to most analysts, the North Koreans likely did not want to attack directly after the artillery drills for many reasons. First, the attack would have theoretically been predictable and on the South’s terms since the South Koreans decided when to start the artillery drills. Secondly, the South Korean military was on alert and any attack from the North could have started an escalation resulting in full-scale war. All analysts agree that a war on the peninsula would be devastating for both countries. Lastly, the North Koreans may have believed they could gain some propaganda value by making themselves seem like the peacemakers by not responding immediately.
Still, those who know North Korea well know that they likely will respond at a time and place of their choosing. For example, when North Korea was angered over the announcement of the 1988 Seoul Olympics venue, they did not respond immediately, but instead had two of their agents blow up a South Korean airliner filled with civilians months later. The North Korean government prefers to retaliate at an unpredictable time and place. As a result, whenever analysts and the South Koreans least expect an attack, that is when the North Korean response will likely come.