On Monday, the United States and South Korea began the 11-day Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise. The ongoing drill, “one of the largest joint staff-directed theatre exercises in the world,” is an annual event. This year it involves 86,000 troops. It is, not coincidentally, taking place at the same time 400,000 of the South’s officials and government employees are participating in an anti-terrorism exercise.
Moreover, it has only been a week since Seoul wrapped up its most extensive anti-submarine drill and 19 days after the end of joint naval maneuvers in the Sea of Japan by the American and South Korean navies. The two allies, obviously, are intensifying their preparations for war.
As they should. The North Koreans, in March, torpedoed the Cheonan and killed 46 South Korean sailors on the frigate. Since then, Pyongyang has snatched a South Korean fishing boat with its crew of seven and been hurling invective toward the South. For instance, on Sunday the North Korean military promised to inflict the “severest punishment no one has ever met in the world” for the Ulchi Freedom Guardian drill.
Of course, we know the North Koreans have no intention of initiating hostilities at this moment. For one thing, they always issue bellicose statements whenever the Americans and South Koreans participate in military drills, even though they are defensive in nature. And, as a shrewd aggressor, Kim Jong Il, the North’s wily leader, would not think of committing an act of violence when his adversaries have deployed so many military assets on or near the Korean peninsula.
Yet we also know that, in the near future, Chairman Kim will order his forces to kill South Koreans — and possibly Americans as well. Why? First, he and his dad, Kim Il Sung, have established a pattern of wanton events. Among other things, they grabbed the Navy’s Pueblo in international waters and tortured the crew, shot down an unarmed Navy reconnaissance plane and killed 31 aviators — the largest loss of U.S. servicemen in a single incident in the Cold War — bombed the South Korean cabinet in Burma, shot down a South Korean civilian airliner, and regularly attacked targets in the South.
Moreover, creating incidents is good politics at home — it rallies members of the regime and demonstrates Kim’s power to ordinary citizens. And murder — let’s call Kim’s acts by their proper name — has convinced weak American and South Korean leaders to provide assistance to the regime. Washington and Seoul have, if the truth be told, paid Mr. Kim to refrain from slaughtering their citizens and soldiers.