North Korean dictator
The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man Kim Jong-un has put his country’s military in a “wartime state” and has given South Korea until 5 PM local time tomorrow (4:30 AM on the US east coast) to stop broadcasting propaganda into North Korea or face military action.
Wait, what???? Uh, yeah, it turns out that on August 10, South Korea started broadcasting anti-North Korea propaganda from a number of loudspeakers on its side of the demilitarized zone separating the two countries for the first time since 2004. They started up the broadcasts again after two South Korean soldiers were injured on August 4 when a landmine exploded in the DMZ. South Korea alleges that the mine that exploded was only recently placed there by the North Koreans. Needless to say, planting new mines in the DMZ is a pretty major no-no under the terms of the armistice that governs relations between the two still-technically-at-war-with-each-other Koreas.
In response to the resumption of the propaganda broadcasts, yesterday North Korea actually fired artillery shells into South Korea (Pyongyang denies this, naturally), and South Korea responded in kind, though no casualties appear to have been reported on either side. There have also been some signs that North Korea is making military preparations:
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, citing an unidentified government source, reported Friday that South Korean and U.S. surveillance assets detected the movement of vehicles carrying short-range Scud and medium-range Rodong missiles in a possible preparation for launches. South Korea’s Defense Ministry said it could not confirm the report.
Joint military exercises between South Korea, the US, and several other nations have been put on hold while the situation develops. The UN Command has offered to talk with Pyongyang about de-escalating the crisis, but it’s not clear whether or how North Korea will respond.
It’s been theorized (which is the best anybody can do in this case) that North Korea has been locked in a power struggle going all the way back to Kim Jong-il’s death in late 2011. There have been bizarre stories that trickle out here and there that suggest things are happening below the surface of North Korean politics, like the time Kim disappeared for a month and a half last fall, or when he allegedly executed his former defense minister via anti-aircraft gun this past spring. Kim has reportedly been executing suspected traitors left and right for a while now, which if true certainly suggests that he doesn’t exactly have an iron grip on his country (or doesn’t feel like he has one, anyway). Mining the DMZ, shelling South Korea, threatening a resumption of the Korean War, these all could be the acts of a guy who feels like he has to demonstrate constant aggression and strength or else risk losing power. Ultimately, as Vox’s Zach Beauchamp writes, it’s unlikely that the Korean War is going to kick off a new phase at 4:30 tomorrow morning, but nothing is totally out of the realm of possibility when it comes to North Korea.
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