What's Happening on the Korean Peninsula?
Marty Hart-Landsberg* January 14, 2011
What's happening on the Korean peninsula? If you read the press or listen to the talking heads, your best guess would be that an insane North Korean regime is willing to risk war to manage its own internal political tensions. This conclusion would be hard to avoid because the media rarely provide any historical context or alternative explanations for North Korean actions.
For example, much has been said about the March 2010 (alleged) North Korean torpedo attack on the Cheonan (a South Korean naval vessel) near Baengnyeong Island, and the November 2010 North Korean artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island (which houses a South Korean military base).
The conventional wisdom is that both attacks were motivated by North Korean elite efforts to smooth the leadership transition underway in their country. The take away: North Korea is an out-of-control country, definitely not to be trusted or engaged in negotiations.
The armistice that ended the Korean War fighting established the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) which separates North Korea from South Korea. At that time, the U.S. government unilaterally established another dividing line, one intended to create a sea border between the two Koreas. That border is illustrated on the map by line A, the blue Northern Limit Line (NLL).
North Korea never accepted the NLL. It argued for an alternative border, illustrated by line B, the red West Sea Military Demarcation Line (MDL). Acknowledging the reality of Southern forces on the islands off its coast, North Korea sought recognition for a sea border that went around the islands but otherwise divided the sea by extending the DMZ line.