A long-frozen conflict is showing troubling signs of a thaw, as North and South Korea traded artillery shells with each other yesterday. Seoul lobbed ten shells across the border in response to an earlier (failed) attempt by Pyongyang to blow up a South Korean loudspeaker broadcasting propaganda over the DMZ.
It has been 11 years since either side has taken to trumpeting propaganda with outdoor speakers. The South has resumed the practice in response to an incident earlier this month when two of its soldiers were injured by land mines in the DMZ, and the North has taken umbrage, calling the act a provocation. The exchange of fire comes during week-long joint exercises between South Korean and U.S. troops, exercises which the North has described as preparations for war.
On the plus side, neither side reported anybody getting hurt. On the not-so-plus side, a confluence of factors is making the prospect of more flareups seem possible. Tensions in East Asia at large are already at fever pitch, neither Korea is particularly happy with Japan at the moment, and the drips and drabs of information that make their way out of the black box that is Pyongyang make it seem as though Kim Jong-un is getting harsher in his attempts to consolidate power—last week, for example, the DPRK confirmed reports that he had executed the country’s vice premier.
The Koreas’ conflict goes way back, it hasn’t gone properly hot in a long, long time, and this latest round of shelling may just be an unpleasant blip. But that doesn’t mean the situation is not a real danger in a precarious region.