Military hardliners likely exerted influence behind attack
By Kang Hyun-kyung
Experts described North Korea’s firing of dozens of artillery shots across the maritime border near Yeongpyeong Island in the West Sea, Tuesday, as “shocking and grave,” agreeing that the provocation was intended, not accidental.
Professor Yoo Ho-yeol of Korea University said he could not rule out the possibility that the action was a result of military hardliners attempting to exert their influence at a time when a power succession from North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-il to his third son, Kim Jong-un, was underway.
The heir apparent rose to power after he was promoted to several key posts in the Communist Party, as well as the military through a rare Workers’ Party Conference held in late September.
“The power succession has been undertaken with the shifting of the balance of power between the communist party and the military. As the party appears to be more influential than before, the military hardliners could have been angry about the relative loss of power,” said Yoo.
“And this could have driven them to order the bombardment to protest the empowerment of the party,” Yoo said.
Cho Myung-chul, a senior fellow at the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy (KIEP), suspected that a “problem inside the inner circle” might be the cause of the belligerent act.
Loyalists tend to be extreme in their efforts to show their allegiance, Cho, a former professor at North Korea’s Kim Il-sung University, said.
Meanwhile, some North Korea watchers said Pyongyang was trying to send a message to the United States through the provocation.
Washington, along with Seoul, is maintaining a two-track approach to deal with the North _ a policy mix of sanctions and engagement.
After the U.N. Security Council wrapped up discussions on the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan by releasing a presidential statement decrying the attack, the North had shown some conciliatory gestures.
It expressed its willingness to return to the six-party talks, and also proposed the reunion of separated family members.
South Korea and the United States, however, showed no sign of supporting the resumption of the six-party talks to end the North’s nuclear program.
The two allies said they wanted the North to show sincere efforts for denuclearization with concrete actions, not words.
Amid no sign of the resumption of talks, North Korea unveiled a new plant to produce lightly-enriched uranium for energy use last week.
Some North Korea watchers said the communist state is back using brinkmanship diplomacy to create a bargaining chip at the negotiating table.