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Tensions in the Korean Peninsula seem to be easing, but still remain high. Is the current crisis fraught with a threat to the region and the world? Itar-Tass put this question to several leading military and civilian experts in the field of foreign policy and defense to hear their unanimous NO. No war in the Korean Peninsula is due.
“The threat of the Korean crisis is so real that the world has already shuddered,” said General of the Army Yuri Baluyevsky (in 2004-2008, the chief of the General Staff of Russia’s Armed Forces, currently an adviser to the commander of Russia’s Interior Ministry troops). He recalled Vladimir Putin’s warning addressed to both Koreas, “Should anything happen, God forbid, Chernobyl will look a fairy tale for kids.”
Baluyevsky blames the current surge of tensions between Pyongyang and Seoul on the “ambitions of North Korea’s young leader Kim Jong-un and on as great ambitions of his south Korean counterpart, Mrs. Park Geun-hye.”
“Both took office not very long ago and both wish to bolster the unity of their nations in the face of a foreign enemy and to show the people they really care about the security of their countries,” Baluyevsky said.
In his opinion, “the current standoff was largely fuelled by the joint exercise the United States and South Korea held last month - flights by US B-52 bombers, the relocation of B-2 Stealth planes and the appearance in the area of Seoul of a US battalion of 200 men, trained and equipped for addressing tasks in the event of WMD being used.” The expert said “against the background of military exercises by the enemies Pyongyang television all the time showed Kim Jong-un pointing with a hand towards the enemy - a clear gesture of warning a retaliatory strike will surely follow. But one should be aware that the North Korean army is unable to confront US-backed South Korea.”
This is how General Baluyevsky describes the combat readiness of the North Korean military. “The North Korean army is large - nearly one million men serving in the ground forces, but it is poorly equipped. North Korea has old missiles of Soviet manufacture with a range of 500 kilometers. The missiles they have made on their own - there are about three thousand of them - have never been tested. The question remains where they will fly. That’s a big problem.”
Asked if North Korea had nuclear weapons, Baluyevsky replied in these words: “In 2006, when North Korea carried out a nuclear test, I was in Japan on a visit. The Japanese kept asking me if it was a nuclear weapon test. I replied with a firm ‘NO’. It was a nuclear device test. To make a nuclear weapon a nuclear warhead having a specific size, dimensions and mass, as well as other parameters, is to be coupled with a delivery vehicle capable of flying thousands of kilometers. Making it explode is also a problem. The fundamental difference is a nuclear device and a nuclear warhead are miles apart.”
At the same time Baluyevsky voiced certain alarm in connection with the date of April 15, when Pyongyng will be marking with great pomp the 101st birth anniversary of Kim Il-sung, the brain father of the Korean variety of Marxism - Chuch’e ideas - and holder of the title of the eternal leader of the nation.
“On that day North Korea may wish to demonstrate it is determined to stand firm. What may happen? I do not rule out there may be another nuclear device test. Or of a nuclear weapon prototype,” Baluyevsky warned.
As a career military he does not rule out that “the situation may go out of control at the lowest level.” He believes that the worst risk to South Korea comes not from advanced modern missiles, but from the multiple rocket launchers that can hit Seoul. After all, the South Korean capital is just about 40 kilometers away from the demilitarized zone. That is really risky.”
At the same time Baluyevsky is certain that “if North Korea dares take such a move, it will get a proportionate response from the United States.” He added: “In the current crisis the United States for the first time displayed common sense and canceled the launch of a ballistic missile. This will help defuse the situation.”
Baluyevsky does not believe the possibility of a war in the Korean Peninsula.
“A war, let alone the use of nuclear weapons, is impossible. There is enough common sense in the Korean Peninsula to stop this sort of scenario.”
However, on April 15 anything may happen. Baluyevsky advises everybody to approach this date in cold blood.
“North Korean missiles may be launched towards the sea. In this way Pyongyang would show muscle and save face. But I rule out a direct clash between North Korea and South Korea.”
The deputy director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of US and Canada Studies, retired Major-General Pavel Zolotaryov, has told ITAR-TASS “all risks to the world from the Korean crisis may be only a consequence of accidental developments.”
“At a time when two countries - the DPRK and South Korea - keep their armed forces under tremendous pressures, the contingency factor may play a role: all of a sudden somebody may fires a shot, somebody’s nerves may fail and the events may take an unforeseen turn.”
Zolotaryov sees no other option, because neither North Korea, nor the United States, nor South Korea need war.
“The leaders of none of these countries will make a decision to go to war,” he said.
Zolotaryov believes that the current situation stems from North Korea’s internal problems.
“North Korea’s rulers today are in a position very similar to that of the USSR and the Soviet Communist Party during the Gorbachev era. Kim Jong-un’ entourage is split. There have appeared functionaries who have laid hands on the wealth distribution taps. There has emerged a wealthy class. Through the Internet youth see a picture of the outside world that is different from the one drawn by the official propaganda, and they wish change.”
The expert believes that in the context of a threat to the unity of the party North Korea’s ruling regime has developed great fears the process may follow the scenario of the breakup of the CPSU and the Soviet Union.
“North Korea wishes to follow in the footsteps of China. It wishes the Communist Party to retain its leading role, because this spells power. For the sake of bolstering the nation’s unity around the party Pyongyang uses the existence of a foreign threat as an argument. This is a purely internal motive, which makes transition to open hostilities impossible,” the analyst said.
Civilian experts have a similar vision of the Korean crisis. Fyodor Lukyanov, who chairs the presidium of the public Foreign and Defense Policy Council, has described North Korea’s war preparations as “controlled hysteria.”
“The North Korean leadership has been able to see that in the modern world the replacement of a regime is becoming routine. To avoid such a scenario Kim Jong-un has responded to the external challenge in a rational way. He skillfully positions himself as an absolutely uncontrollable personality, a hothead: come on, just try to do something to us, we’ll fight back!” Also “North Korea’s possession of nuclear components, even though of very small amounts, and the rocket potential, albeit primitive and unreliable, reduces the possibility of a preventive intervention for replacing the regime literally to nothing,” Lukyanov believes.
At the same time he believes that any adventurist action is always fraught with a threat to peace.
“It is noteworthy that even China, which always blames the responsibility for rising tensions in the peninsula first and foremost on South Korea and the United States this time said Pyongyang should have refrained from holding military exercises, but at the same time criticized North Korea’s reaction as utterly disproportionate.
The main question for all is whether North Korea is aware of the line that should not be stepped over in its wish to demonstrate firmness and determination.
“If Pyongyang is the first to use military force, it will incur a crushing response. But the North Korean leadership has never showed any signs of planning a suicide,” Lukyanov said.
He remarked that the behavior of North Korean leaders is an annoyance for all. That the United States, South Korea and Japan are angry is pretty clear. North Korea has been an eyesore for them all the way. But now even the friends - Russia and North Korea - find it hard to keep emotions at bay. Russia has for the first time outspokenly criticized Pyongyang. And China’s The Global Times newspaper has said that North Korean threats run counter to the interests of Russia and China.
Lukyanov believes the ongoing Korean crisis may be resolved in the following way: “The current ‘firework display’ will have the net effect of the North Korean regime’s self-assertion. In reality nobody is prepared to or will go to war with it. I believe that everything will get back to the scheme of things that has existed so far.”