Belligerent North Korea

Smoke billow from Yeonpyeong island near the border against North Korea, in South Korea, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2010. North and South Korea exchanged artillery fire Tuesday after the North shelled an island near their disputed sea border, killing at least two South Korean marines, setting dozens of buildings ablaze and sending civilians fleeing for shelter.

The act of war committed by North Korea Tuesday — unleashing an artillery barrage on a South Korean island occupied by both military and civilians — left the world once more perplexed by the regime of Kim Jong-il.

Was the attack that killed two South Korean marines and wounded at least 19 other people designed to forcefully assert North Korea’s right to join the international community of nations with nuclear weapons, as some observers suggested? It occurred, after all, immediately following North Korea’s announcement that it had just boosted its capacity to produce nuclear fuel.

Or was it a snub at South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who has taken a harder line toward North Korea than his predecessor?

It was a thumbing of the nose to the Chinese, some suggested. Recently, Chinese diplomats urged Kim Jong-il and his administration to communicate better with China so they wouldn’t be surprised by North Korea’s actions. But they were caught off guard as much as anyone by Tuesday’s attack.

Or maybe it’s just an attempt for Kim Jong-Un, the son of Kim Jong-il and the latter’s appointed successor, to demonstrate he is as tough, militarily, as his father. There might even be some political dissent within the regime that Un is attempting to silence.

Could it be a way for the regime to say to the world, “We don’t care about your trade sanctions?” which are said to be hurting both the regime and ordinary citizens of North Korea.

No one seems to have a good answer for what makes the Kim Jong family engage in apparently irrational behavior. But one thing is clear: The world cannot allow an unprovoked attack on its neighbor go unchallenged. If it does, there will be more attacks on South Korea and others.


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