Thursday, December 23, 2010

Behind the Scenes of Yeonpyeong Island Exercise

A really interesting report from the Korea JoongAng Daily (English JoongAng Ilbo) describing some of the behind the scenes activities leading up to and during the Yeonpyeong Island exercise. First some interesting diplomacy.

A diplomatic source in Seoul believes that North Korea did not go any further to provoke the South because of a recent visit made by high-ranking U.S. officials to China.

The delegation that visited Beijing included Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg and Jeff Bader, senior director for Asian Affairs of the National Security Council. They were said to have delivered a “very tough message” to China...

The diplomatic source said the delegation had told Chinese officials that if North Korea launches another attack, the U.S. would not stand in the way of South Korean military retaliation.

“Steinberg and his delegation also informed China that if it did not take up a responsible role in blocking North Korea’s provocations, then North Korea will inevitably be brought up during summit talks between President Obama and Hu Jintao next year,” the source added. “We believe that China delivered this message to North Korea because of the pressure, and urged them to tone down their response to the South Korean firing exercise on Yeonpyeong Island.”
This New York Times article outlines how the diplomacy situation is changing with the US and China finding common ground. This is a most interesting, and very welcome development.

During the exercises North Korea was engaged, sort of.
The South Korean Armed Forces had deployed unmanned aerial vehicles to monitor unusual activity from the North, but its military jammed the plane’s navigation system, rendering the aerial vehicle ineffective.

There was also intelligence that North Korea was preparing to fire antiaircraft missiles. A South Korean military source said that light beams to guide surface-to-air missiles had been detected on Monday at an antiaircraft base in northern Hwanghae Province, but no missiles were launched.

“The F-15K and KF-16 fighter jets were targeted. Mobile missile launch pads were continuously deployed, then removed; we thought these were tactics to throw us off,” the military source told the JoongAng Ilbo.
The degree of disruption to the unmanned aircraft is unclear based on this article, but I can't say I am surprised. It is an unwelcome new normal that South Korean pilots flying over South Korea must hold steady while North Korean SA-2 systems are clearly locking the aircraft as targets.

To me that sounds like a recipe for escalation. Despite the tension, the good news for Christmas is that diplomacy is working, and the US and China are starting to find mutual ground to work with. That was always the prerequisite for any diplomatic solution.

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