The New York Times lauds North Korea’s “restraint” in responding to recent South Korean live fire drills near the border:
A day after North Korea backed off threats of violent retaliation for South Korean artillery drills, analysts and policy makers in Seoul said Tuesday that the North’s unexpected restraint might signal, at least for now, that the North Koreans were shifting away from recent military provocations.
North Korea had vowed retaliation if South Korea went ahead with its planned live-fire drills on Yeonpyeong Island, where a North Korean artillery barrage last month killed two South Korean soldiers and two civilians. But when the South defied those threats and held a 94-minute drill on Monday, the North’s official news agency reversed itself by saying it was “not worth reacting” to the exercises.
Political analysts could only speculate about the sudden change in tone by North Korea, one of the world’s most closed and secretive societies. They said that a visit to North Korea by an unofficial American envoy, Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, that came at the same time might have helped. Indeed, the North seemed to offer Mr. Richardson an olive branch with its willingness to allow United Nations inspectors back in to monitor its nuclear program.
“I do commend the South Korean government for their restraint, for their legitimacy in pursuing this military drill,” Mr. Richardson told reporters in Beijing on Tuesday. “And I commend the North Korean leadership for not retaliating.”
I think it’s far more likely that, as a inveterate provocateur, North Korea is merely choosing the time and place for its next act of irresponsibility.
The Norks may act unpredictably, but they do so with a predictable reliability. They’re also savvy enough to know that, while they could make Seoul burn, any real outbreak of hostilities on the Korean peninsula means the inevitable and catastrophic destruction of their own regime.
Which, in the end, is all they really care about.