The latest round of tensions between North Korea and South Korea was a threat not only to peace in the region but also to relations among the world’s major powers. Fortunately, both sides have backed down.
Hostilities rose earlier this month when two South Korean soldiers were injured by a North Korean landmine on the border. The South then began broadcasting propaganda from loudspeakers. Last week both sides traded gunfire until marathon talks began, aimed at calming relations.
The basis of the conflict between North and South is a war that ended 62 years ago but which has not been brought to a real close.
North Korea, a Communist state ruled by a family dictatorship, puts a higher priority on its state of military preparedness than on feeding its hungry population. Its stock of nuclear weapons is its calling card, the only element in its pathetic situation that is capable of attracting the world’s attention.
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South Korea, a constitutional democratic republic, is equally if not better armed. Since the end of the war in 1953 it rebuilt its industry and commerce into the world’s 13th largest economy. Its military defense has been assured by the United States, which still has 28,500 troops stationed there. This costly benefit from America has enabled South Korea to focus its resources on expanding its economy.
The truth remains that the Koreans are one people and their reunification, like the Germans’, is a matter of time.
Both sides should be commended this week for having cooled their tempers. Perhaps the dialogue which produced the stand-down can lead toward greater cooperation.