Although both countries are as uncompromising in their political ideologies and tactics as they have always been, neither North nor South Korea is at all interested in major violence arising, nor are they interested in the ongoing war of 1953 to resume.
While war is often executed to restore national sovereignty and to defend the moral integrity of any given state, it can also be employed as a mechanism to defer the masses' attention from the government's failure to deliver its promises in other fields.
Neither factors can be denied regarding the latest North Korean quest to alter water boundaries in the Yellow Sea, which have been long honored as the official sea boarders between the two rivals. Yet, a third factor must be acknowledged regarding the North Korean position, which is its need for additional food supplies to feed its people following years of drought and the devastating famine of 1995.
Threatening to ignite conflict in order to generate international attention and aid is most likely the reason behind the North Korean leader's, Kim Jung Il, recent angry remarks demanding control over water surrounding five isolated South Korean Islands in the Yellow Sea by "all means and measures."
Tony Hall, a U.S. Representative who conducted his fifth visit to North Korea last month, suggested in a news briefing that if the United States government halts sanctions imposed on communist North Korea and continues to send food aid, the North Korean government shall respond in a favorable way. In spite of South Korea's uncompromising reaction to the Northern threats by describing Kim's words as "a worn-out North Korean tactic," serious clashes between the two sides are expected to occur if impartial diplomacy is not soon put to use.
The water dispute between the Korea's is in fact a consequential result of other disputes that have arisen in the last few years. Since the cease-fire following the war between the two countries, no peace treaty has been signed, nor precise borders drawn, which has left both countries technically at war. And thanks to the American-led U.N command, a sea border has been drawn between the two and was explained away as a buffer to avoid armed clashes.
In 1974, North Korean vowed to extend its sovereignty beyond the South Korean northern limit line. The threats then created the same sense of panic that is present today. South Korean warships escorted ferries and fishing boats to and from the five islands located within the disputed water. The latest conflict however, appears to be more apprehensive for several reasons.
Since the middle of June this year, North Korean warships have challenged the U.S-U.N proposed water line by repeatedly crossing over to the South Korean side. The North Korean challenge has brought minor but serious violence between the conflicting neighbors, resulting in the death of 30 North Korean soldiers after their torpedo boat was hit and sunk.
Even though heated official speeches are a routine practice by North Korean officials, recent remarks made by Kim Jung Il drove many experts to believe that a more alarming tone has been used. Kim Jong Il was quoted recently by North Korea's official Pyongyang radio as saying that "tension on the peninsula has intensified to such a level that a war could break out at any time."
Some argue that the water dispute is in fact a manifestation of a larger dispute, which arose following last year's testing of a multistage missile in the Pacific, which flew over Japan. The shock, which struck the whole region at the time, is expected to strike again if North Korea carries out its new threats to test-fire a new long-range missile that could reach Hawaii or Alaska.
The United States is taking advantage of Japan and Taiwan's fear of the North Korean's endeavor, and is said to have installed missile defense systems for both countries. China, a longtime ally of North Korea, who is already in an intensifying dispute with Taiwan, is accusing the Americans of wanting to flex their military muscles in that region.
As the Korean dispute places the entire region at risk, the Clinton administration has been persuading the North Koreans to halt their missile programs in rounds of intensive talks in Berlin. So far, no breakthrough has been reported, and both countries' envoys have informed the press that their consultations shall continue.
It is true that the North Korean-American dialogue in Germany can be viewed as an indication of a peaceful solution to the conflict. Yet, the North Koreans lack confidence in US policy. Their firm demand for an immediate lifting of the sanctions, in addition to their insistence on renegotiating waterlines, is expected to make any talks difficult through the American perspective. The only demand that the Americans seem to be interested in examining is the increase of food supplies donated to impoverished North Korea.
If U.S pressure is not eased on North Korea, and a stronger role by the United Nations rises to replace the role played by the United States, North Korean frustration is predicted to reach its fullest, which could very possible result in another war.