SEOUL – South Korea will launch an immediate counterstrike “without political consideration” should North Korea attack or provoke the South, president Park Geun-hye told military officers and journalists gathered at a South Korean Ministry of Defense policy briefing today.
Despite threats from Pyongyang to close the Kaesong Industrial Complex this weekend, South Korean workers travelled across the border on Monday morning. Roughly 800 South Koreans live in the joint industrial zone during the week, with over 1000 commuting daily. Observers view the complex’s closure as a sign of more serious escalations.
“The greatest concern is about being detained in the North if Pyongyang really opts to close the industrial complex,” a South Korean worker told Yonhap news this morning. “I have no idea about what it will be like when I go to the North Korean side. It seems OK to be here, but we will be living there in a tense situation for a week,” another South Korean businessmen told Associated Press.
The U.S. deployed F22 fighter jets to support ongoing military exercises in South Korea yesterday, after launching B-52 and B-2 bombing sorties last week. The ‘B’ bombers are capable of carrying a nuclear payload, for which North Korea has deemed the flights highly provocative. The F22 was last deployed to South Korea in 2010, Reuters reported.
“We, the United States and South Korea, have not been involved in provocating anything. We, over the years, have been engaged with South Korea on joint exercises. The B-2 flight was part of that,” US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told reporters gathered at the Pentagon last Friday. Pyongyang views on-going military exercises as a full-scale rehearsal for the attack and invasion of North Korea. A statement from U.S. Forces in Korea said the B-2 flight was to demonstrate “the commitment of the United States and its capability to defend the Republic of Korea and to provide extended deterrence to our allies in the Asia-Pacific region.”
North Korea responded to what it saw as a further escalation by suggesting it was developing a plan to attack the mainland United States, and by officially declaring a “state of war” between North and South. On Sunday, its rubber-stamp parliament declared designated nuclear deterrence and the economy as the state’s new priorities, further decreasing U.S. hopes for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
Observers worry that, with tensions running high and two new leaders in Pyongyang and Seoul, there is significant potential for escalation in the event of military confrontation. Both Kim Jong Un and Park Geun-hye are under domestic pressure to show strong and decisive leadership in the face of each other’s threats, and a lack of direct communication between the two sides is worrying for some.