For the night of 26 March 2013
North Korea: The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) carried a statement from the Supreme Command of the Korean People's Army (KPA) that ratchets up the tension again. Pertinent parts are quoted. Highlights added.
"Statement by the Korean People's Army Supreme Command"
"Despite repeated warnings by our army and people, the United States' nuclear war commotion aimed at us is taking place at an actual stage beyond the danger limit."
"Even on 25 March, the United States suddenly thrust a formation of B-52 nuclear strategic bombers deployed at the Andersen Air Force Base on the island of Guam into the sky over the South Korean region at around 8:00 in the morning. After around 11:50, they brazenly publicized this as if to make it known, while carrying out an intensive actual-fighting nuclear strike exercise simulating targets deep inside the northern part of the Republic…"
(Editorial note: The five paragraphs deleted in this section contain the list of Allied actions, such as annual combined training, that the North finds offensive and justifies the North's response. That is the standard format of this kind of statement.)
"The situation is grave because such reckless and insidious maneuvers are timed to coincide with the US-conceived anti-DPRK resolution on sanctions which is being put into action with high intensity through conspiracy and collusion with all sorts of hostile forces."
"In connection with the situation now created, the KPA Supreme Command declares at home and abroad our army and people's final decision, as follows:
1. We will demonstrate through actual military action our army and people's firm resolve for a response to defend the country's sovereignty and supreme dignity.
"There is a limit to patience."
"Our conclusion is as clear as day. We can no longer overlook the menacing reality in which the nation's sovereignty and supreme dignity are being utterly violated, and in which the United States' nuclear threats and blackmail are turning into actual war moves."
"The KPA Supreme Command, from this moment on, will place on Combat Duty Posture No. 1 all field artillery groups, which includes strategic rocket units and long-distance artillery units that are set to strike the bases of the US imperialist forces of aggression on the US mainland and in the Pacific forces operational region -- including Hawaii and Guam -- and all enemy targets in South Korea and its surrounding areas."
"2. We will also show our army's ultra hard-line resolve in the form of physical actions toward the current puppet authorities of South Korea, who are dancing to the tune of their master's hostile policy toward the DPRK."
"If they think that they will be able to find opportunities to strike against originating bases, and to punish reinforcing forces and commanding forces, that would be the most foolish of delusions."
"They must clearly keep in mind that at the first, instant strike, everything will be blown away and be burned to ashes with not even a seed remaining."
"The firm stand of our army and people is that they cannot allow the previous ruler's nation-selling and treacherous acts -- which drove North-South relations to a catastrophe and blocked the road of peace and prosperity for as long as five years -- to continue without change under the current ruler."
"3. We plead with the progressive people of the world, who oppose war and love peace, to turn out as one in the struggle to oppose the strong arm and tyranny of the brigandish (sic.) United States…."
(Editorial note: In the deleted section containing four short paragraphs the North asserts that it is the victim of US injustice and the UN is in complicity.)
"The KPA Supreme Command appeals to the world's conscience to join in our army and people's struggle to safeguard freedom and justice instead of blindly submitting to the United States' strong arm and tyranny and the resolutions of the UN Security Council which have lost impartiality."
"Victory lies in our army and people, who have turned out to safeguard sovereignty, and the progressive people of the world who love justice and peace."
" 26 Mar Chuch'e 102, 2013"
"(Signed) KPA Supreme Command"
Comments on the statement: The actual action is the increase of combat readiness to level one, which is normally called Full Combat Readiness, for artillery, rocket and missile units. It is the highest readiness level and provides the North with the capability to fire within minutes of receiving firing orders. Thus, the North's artillery and rocket launchers north of the Demilitarized Zone are ready to launch a pre-emptive attack or to retaliate swiftly.
In the four Army Corps that are based north of the Demilitarized Zone, the North has deployed in caves and hardened positions about 10,000 howitzers, guns and multiple round rocket launchers with wartime loads of ammunition. The gun density per kilometer is higher than at the major battles on the Soviet Front in World War II and is, in fact, derived from Soviet artillery doctrine.
The massed artillery and rocket launchers can fire 250,000 rounds of artillery shells and rockets plus 1,000 missiles, according to a North Korean web site that listed these capabilities in a threatening post last weekend.
The North can probably fire ten salvos of 100 missiles out to various targets, including all of South Korea, Japan and Guam. The long range artillery and rockets can range Seoul from north of the DMZ. The massed fires can saturate every square kilometer south of the DMZ down to Seoul. Both the North and South Korean forces have had 60 years to register their weapons against targets.
These are longstanding capabilities, except for the missiles which is about less than twenty years old.
The capabilities are genuine but pre-emption is not the North's stated military intent. Under item 2, the Statement mentions instant retaliation to a South Korean attack. That means means the North might not fire first, but will fire on tactical warning, meaning when it detects South Korea has started firing or when the North is persuaded a South Korean attack is imminent.
General comments on the situation: Several points require additional comment. First, the war scenario the North threatens is the one for which Allied forces have prepared for more than a decade. The North's weapons have changed a bit, but not nearly as much as Allied military capabilities have grown and modernized. The start of the artillery and missile fires would be an act of national suicide and North Korean military leaders know it, even if Kim Jong Un might not.
Second, guns rockets and missiles are not ground gainers or ground holders. The massed fires would destroy the ground the North Korean armor and infantry must traverse during a southward invasion. Even under peacetime conditions the roads south from the DMZ are barely adequate to support civilian traffic. The terrain does not permit much off-road movement close to the DMZ
The statement does not mention or threaten an invasion of the South, only its destruction. It does not mention general war, though that would ensue once the guns fire.
The threat would be scarier if the Statement said the entire country and armed forces were at full combat readiness.
Winter Training. A fact not in the statement is that this week -the last week of March-- is the usual climax of the North's Winter Training cycle that begins every year in December. The winter training cycle is the most intense training period of the year. The last week of March is the most intense training period in the cycle.
It is the time for the most complex training by the entire army, annually. The announced readiness status confirms this is a vigorous training cycle and that the conclusion of the cycle is on schedule.
In a vigorous winter training cycle, all units in the army are raised to full combat readiness as a matter of course and graded by umpires on their speed in attaining that readiness level and the thoroughness of war preparations.
If a unit receives a poor grade, it must perform remedial training in April which is the start of spring planting season. KPA units must grow much of their own food, so remedial training is a hardship.
Status of the rear. Limited information on the rear areas, where the civilians live, does not suggest the North expects war to break out at any moment. A delegation of parliamentarians from West Germany arrived in Pyongyang on the 25th. Activity at the port of Nampo was normal on the 25th. On Saturday, a school in Pyongyang held a poetry recital and a concert.
Finally, the North is planning to convene a plenary meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee this month, according to a report today from KCNA. A politburo plenary would be a rich target for the Allies and would never be held if North Korean leaders really anticipated a war. The entire national leadership could be decapitated in one strike.
The danger of misadventure.
The situation is dangerous and contains two related compnents. Most ominous is that the North Koreans seem to be deliberately misinterpreting Allied and UN actions as threatening a nuclear war. That artificially electrifies the atmosphere.
The intent appears to be to persuade the US and the UN how dangerous the situation is without a permanent peace treaty. That judgment is based on the mismatch between the North's "war preparations" and the likely damage that tactical nuclear weapons could inflict on all those assembled forces. North Korea has not made preparations that would help if survive the nuclear attack it accuses the US of threatening.
With the North's guns, rockets and missiles ready to fire on short notice, the North Korean leadership has created the condition for small incidents to escalate rapidly. Additionally, it has dismantled the crisis management mechanism at Panmunjom that enabled the parties to clarify incidents so as to prevent escalation.
Item 2 in the Statement re-confirms this condition is deliberate. The language is very close to an invitation for South Korea to start something. It implies that even an accidental weapons discharge from the South might prompt the North Koreans to shoot.
The situation is dangerous. North Korean agents of influence in South Korea could do something to make the shooting start. A provocation remains likely and it risks escalation to general war.
North Korea-United Nations: The Foreign Ministry of the DPRK released the following statement on Tuesday, 26 March:
"The U.S. anti-DPRK hostile acts being intensified over its satellite launch for peaceful purposes have reached the eve of nuclear war. To cope with the prevailing grave situation the KPA Supreme Command made a final decision to demonstrate with a practical military action the strong will of the DPRK army and people to take a resolute counteraction and gave an order to the strike forces of justice to keep themselves on the highest alert."
"Upon authorization the Foreign Ministry of the DPRK openly informs the UN Security Council that the Korean Peninsula is now in a touch-and-go situation due to the nuclear war provocation moves of the U.S. and South Korean puppets."
"The DPRK army and people that have become one with the Supreme Command are entering the final stage of the all-out showdown with the U.S. to defend the country's sovereignty and the nation's dignity by dint of the power of songun (military-first) they have long bolstered up."
Comment: This supplements the KPA statement and appears intended to provide the North with political cover if an incident occurs. It also invites UN intervention. UN involvement would be required for a permanent peace agreement.
China's reaction. The Foreign Ministry press spokesman said, "The current situation on the peninsula is complicated and sensitive. We hope that the parties concerned will remain restrained, exercise caution with their statements and actions, and do more to contribute to peace and stability on the peninsula."
Comment: The spokesman betrayed no apparent sense of heightened concern, though he was specifically asked for China's reaction to the North Korean army statement announcing increased readiness.
South Korea: For the record. At 0027 GMT on 27 March, South Korea's semiofficial Yonhap news agency in Korean reported that the ROK military had raised the military alert status to "Chindotkae 1 (of 3)" level in Hwacheon, Gangwon Province, in the central frontline region of the Korean peninsula. The "Chindotkae 1" level is the highest of 3-watch levels issued and is issued when there is an actual localized threat, such as an infiltration of an armed agent from North Korea.
At 0030 GMT, Yonhap carried a follow-up report saying that at around 1730 GMT on 26 March, a guard at a frontline guard post in Hwacheon, Gangwon Province spotted a "strange object" and that the ROK military took immediate measures according to its standard operating procedures. The military authorities said that they are "currently confirming what this object is."
At 0039 GMT, Yonhap carried a one-line report that the ROK military has lifted the warning.
Comment: Under current conditions, in 12 minutes, such as those reported above, a general war might have started had the South Korean guards fired weapons at the strange object,
China-Vietnam: A Chinese maritime law enforcement ship fired on a Vietnamese fishing boat in the South China Sea and set its cabin on fire on 20 March, Vietnamese authorities said on the 26th.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said today, "The Xisha Islands are Chinese territory, and this is not in dispute at all. The Vietnamese fishing boat entered the waters of China's Xisha to operate illegally. The action taken by the Chinese side was necessary and justified. As verified by the relevant authorities, the Vietnamese fishing boat was not damaged in any way. The Chinese side urges the Vietnamese side to take effective measures to step up the education and management of its fishermen and to halt relevant illegal activities."
Comment: The details are unclear and in dispute, but the Chinese did not deny firing on the Vietnamese boat, but said the Chinese ship fired flares. NightWatch judged that the recent reorganization of maritime law enforcement ships under a single command presaged a more vigorous enforcement of Chinese claims. This incident tends to support that judgment.
End of NightWatch for 26 March.
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