I read earlier today that North and South Korea had a brief border skirmish earlier today. Both sides exchanged artillery fire, and resulted in the deaths of two South Korean soldiers (more information here).
Although this has been one of the most serious military clashes in the past year, this isn’t much different than what happened March, which was when a North Korean submarine allegedly sank a South Korean navy ship (news story here). South Korea is attacked, but the country did nothing other than use strongly worded letters and speeches to declare how dangerous North Korea is and how they should be punished for their actions. After the event today, it seems a similar response from South Korea is likely.
South Korea isn’t willing to fight a war with North Korea. As much as South Korea wants them dealt with, it simply isn’t worth it. The events of today are evident to show that if South Korea decides to make any move against the North, artillery strikes can easily strike targets in the South causing huge casualties and costly infrastructure damage. South Korea doesn’t want that to happen.
The prevalent point of view of wars today is that casualties are unacceptable. The War on Terror and the Iraq War support this. Every now and then, the newspaper posts a story about how a brave soldier gave his or her life for their country. People don’t like fighting wars that involve soldiers on their own side getting killed. According to a poll done by Gallup, most people in the United States believed that sending troops to Iraq was not a mistake at the start of the Iraq War in 2003. As time went on, casualties mounted. War didn’t seem like such a good idea anymore. Support for the war dropped from 75% in 2003, to 41% in 2010 (source). South Korea does not want to fight this war. It isn’t about whether the South will win or lose. It’s about casualties. They know that if they fight this war, many South Koreans will die, and that is unacceptable.
Ever since the world wars, people learned not to no longer fight a war on such a large scale anymore. Even in the Cold War, conflict on the scale of World War II was not seen. People learned. It still is the case now. As stated before, many South Koreans will be killed. On top of that, any country who is obligated to support either country would be putting their soldiers’ lives on the line as well. North Korea controls an active army of 1.1 million, while South Korea controls an active army of 687 000 (source). On the other hand, North Korea won’t declare war on the South either. They too know that a war with the South would be very destructive for them. An all out war would not be pretty.
Just by knowing the South isn’t going to declare war on the North, the only other response is diplomacy. It’s what they’ve been doing since the signing of the armistice of the Korean War. The end result: more strongly worded speeches and letters. North Korea’s response to it: “We don’t care.”