Risk of escalation between North and South Korea will rise following shelling incident: IHS

(From IHS Country Risk)

The risk of escalating incidents between North and South Korea is expected to rise following the latest exchange of fire along the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ), says a Thursday report by IHS Country Risk senior analyst Alison Evans.

Evans notes Thursday’s exchange of fire across the DMZ is unprecedented in that previous cross-border attacks have mainly involved small-arms fire or, as in October 2014 anti-aircraft heavy machine guns. In contrast, there have been frequent exchanges of artillery and rocket fire across the Northern Limit Line (NLL), the de facto maritime border – most notably North Korea’s shelling of Yeonpyeong in November 2010.

South Korean battle tank

South Korean battle tank

IHS had predicted in a forecast earlier this month that there is an increased risk of escalation of incidents following the landmine explosions that injured two South Korean soldiers in the DMZ on Aug. 4, and during a period of heightened tension between the two Koreas – namely the “Ulchi Freedom Guardian” US-South Korea annual military exercise. North Korea has condemned these exercises as preparation for an offensive attack since they began in 1976.

Evans says another catalyst that increases the risk of escalation is South Korea’s doctrine. In 2002, its military published a Defense White Paper stating that, “The RoK military will decisively strike not only the origin of enemy provocation, but also the command and support forces behind the provocation.” The analysis says this policy change allows South Korea the scope to pre-emptively strike North Korean targets, rather than respond to an attack by North Korea with “proportionate” retaliation.

The most likely escalation pathways involve (in order of increasing risk) are said to be the exchange of broadcast or leafleted messages across the DMZ, a cyber-attack on South Korean assets, artillery fire across the NLL, North Korean missile or rocket tests, exchange of fire – excluding small arms – across the DMZ.

IHS quotes South Korean military reports on Thursday as saying the North fired a 14.5-millimeter anti-aircraft shell across the DMZ at 4:15 pm local time; no damage or injuries have been reported. The first shell fell approximately 60 km north of Seoul, near Yeoncheon, Gyeonggi Province; residents were evacuated following the attack. The shells were reportedly aimed at loudspeakers broadcasting anti-North Korean messages across the DMZ, for the first time since 2004. South Korea responded by firing dozens of 155-millimeter artillery rounds towards the detected source of the projectile from North Korea, according to a National Defence Ministry spokesperson. The South Korean military services are now all on the highest alert level. South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye is holding an emergency National Security Council session on the attack.

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