The recent land mine attack that maimed two South Korean soldiers who were on border patrol on the southern side of the demilitarized zone is believed to have arisen from a ‘loyalty race’ within Pyongyang’s military hardliners. Experts believe Kim Jong Un gave the greenlight for the operation after officials looking to win over his favor suggested they should ‘shake up’ the South ahead of a major joint-military exercise between Seoul and Washington. The North is likely looking to generate the typical pattern of provoking the South, ratcheting up tensions, and creating conflict within South Koreans.
The provocation may also be part of a campaign to produce major achievements on the political and military front ahead of the milestone 70th anniversary of the Workers’ Party foundation day on October 10. Kim may also be more focused on stirring up military tensions having failed four years into his leadership to produce tangible results both on Sino-North Korean relations and economic development.
“North Korea has always carried out some kind of military attack — big or small — when there’s a major event in the country,” a North Korea analyst who asked not to be identified told Daily NK on Tuesday. “It’s threatening the South basically saying it’s busy ahead of the major 70th anniversary and its idolization of Kim Jong Un. So if Seoul provokes it, it’s saying it will smash it to pieces.”
The timing of the attack is also a deliberate calculation, he said. “The provocation came one day ahead of former First Lady Lee Hui Ho’s trip up North. It knew that if the attack happened within the same time frame it would create more conflict within the South,” the expert said. “Seemingly engaging in dialogue while carrying out an attack, and carrying out an attack while engaging in dialogue. It’s a very cunning strategy. I believe the timing of it all is related to this approach.”
A researcher from Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, Kim Jin Moo, said stiff competition within the North Korean military has led to the recent attack. “Since Kim Jong Un came into power, he has swapped out his defense minister six times and the chief of staff four times, so there are a lot of issues within the military when it comes to appointing people,” Kim said. “It shows that things have come to the point where you can’t survive, if you don’t perform well in the ‘loyalty battle,” he said.
Kim surmised the land mine operation was likely planned by the military and headed by the General Bureau of Reconnaissance to win points from Kim Jong Un.
Following the attack, South Korea vowed to respond with ‘harsh measures’ and said it would restart propaganda broadcasts through loudspeakers on the border, which it had halted nearly a decade ago. “The psychological warfare will be a great threat to the North,” Shin In Kyoon, head of Korea Defense Network said. “The North Korean soldiers who are posted on the border are very hungry and are struggling,” he said. “Exposing them to news from the South could put the North in a very difficult situation,” he added.
Tensions are higher on the Korean Peninsula after Seoul announced on Monday that two South Korean soldiers were maimed by three land mines on August 4. The South Korean defense ministry said North Korea deliberately planted the land mines after the U.S.-led United Nations Command ruled in its investigation that the devices had been recently implanted and debris indicated they were North Korean ‘wooden box’ land mines. One soldier had to have part of his legs amputated, while the other had to have his foot removed.