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May 19, 2024

North and South Korea Exchange Artillery Fire Near Disputed Sea Border

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Jan 6, 2024

North Korea fired over 200 artillery shells near a disputed sea border with South Korea on January 5th, triggering evacuation orders on a nearby South Korean island. The provocation comes amid rising tensions between the rival Koreas and fears of a potential military clash.

North Korea Fires Over 200 Rounds Near Sea Border

According to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), North Korea fired around 190 artillery rounds beginning at 12:30 pm local time into buffer zones near the Northern Limit Line (NLL) – a de facto maritime border between the two countries.

The NLL was drawn unilaterally by the American-led United Nations Command after the 1950-53 Korean War and has been a frequent source of conflict between the Koreas. North Korea does not recognize the NLL and insists on a boundary further south.

This latest artillery barrage took place near Yeonpyeong and Baengnyeong Islands, just south of the NLL. South Korea responded by firing about 40 rounds into waters north of the NLL.

“Our military swiftly responded with corresponding counterfire measures in accordance with our manual,” the JCS said in a text message sent to reporters.

No casualties or damage have been reported so far. Yeonpyeong Island was temporarily evacuated, however, with around 90 residents and workers told to head to underground shelters as a precaution.

This clash comes amid rising tensions since North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called for an “exponential” expansion of his country’s nuclear arsenal and threatened to preemptively use nuclear weapons earlier this week.

History of Artillery Clashes Near Sea Border

The NLL has been the site of multiple artillery skirmishes over the years:

  • In 1999 and 2002, naval skirmishes between North and South Korean patrol boats left dozens of sailors dead near Yeonpyeong Island
  • In 2010, North Korea shelled Yeonpyeong Island, killing four South Koreans
  • Hundreds of shells were traded across the border in 2015 after South Korea resumed propaganda broadcasts in response to a North Korean land mine attack

Artillery exchanges serve as way for both Koreas to demonstrate resolve during times of heightened tensions without full-scale combat. However, they also risk unintended escalation into a broader conflict.

What’s Behind the Latest Provocation?

North Korea’s Kim Jong Un likely ordered the latest artillery drill to signal his displeasure with upcoming South Korea-U.S. military exercises and send a message after his bellicose New Year’s speech.

Joint military drills between Seoul and Washington have long infuriated Pyongyang, which views them as rehearsals for invasion. The allies had downsized or canceled some major exercises in recent years due to COVID-19 and to lower tensions during a brief period of diplomacy with North Korea.

With talks stalled since 2019, however, more robust combined training is expected to resume. Later this month, South Korea and the United States plan to conduct tabletop exercises dealing with North Korean nuclear threats.

“North Korea fired these shells as a warning … that it could take counteractions if the South and the United States continue joint military drills,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.

The artillery barrage may have also been timed as an early response to Kim Jong Un’s recent calls for an exponential increase in nuclear weapons, including tactical warheads that could be used to attack sites in South Korea.

“North Korea is trying to test how serious the Yoon Suk Yeol government is about its own threats of ‘severely responding’ if Pyongyang conducts provocations linked to strengthening its nuclear capabilities,” Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, told Reuters.

President Yoon, who took office in May 2022, has vowed a tougher stance on North Korean provocations compared to his predecessor. However, his options may be limited due to North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile programs.

What’s Next? Risk of Miscalculation

Both Koreas often respond to shows of force with more explicit displays of military might. Following North Korea’s barrage, South Korea fired 400 rounds of K-9 self-propelled howitzers into the waters south of the NLL “in accordance with our response manual.”

The United States also plans to deploy more advanced weapons like F-35 fighter jets and aircraft carriers to the peninsula for upcoming drills with South Korea. Joint air exercises are expected in the coming weeks.

With military moves and rhetoric heating up on both sides of the border, the risk of unintended escalation rises. North Korea may conduct additional weapons tests or border provocations in the near future to express its anger.

According to Leif-Eric Easley, “Kim Jong Un’s declaration of an ‘exponential’ nuclear buildup and testing more tactical capabilities sets up 2023 as a very concerning year for North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and military provocations.”

The growing North Korean nuclear threat will continue driving Seoul and Washington to enhance deterrence and strengthen defense. However, finding the right balance between defense and diplomacy will be critical to prevent tensions from boiling over into open conflict.

Careful crisis management will be vital in the coming weeks and months as the cycle of action and reaction plays out across the inter-Korean border.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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