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North Korea Declares State Of War After Argument Over Loudspeaker Spirals Out Of Control

Kim Jong-un has declared a state of war following an escalation of hostilities across the DMZ. Here's Xinhua:

The top leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) Kim Jong Un has ordered the country's frontline combined forces to enter state of war from 5pm (0830 GMT) Friday. the official KCNA news agency reported Friday, the official KCNA news agency reported early Friday.

 

Kim made the order at an emergency enlarged meeting of the central military commission of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea, said the report.

 

He ordered the forces to be well armed to cope with any possible operations at any time. Kim also gave the order that the frontline area enter quasi state of war from 5 pm Friday.

 

During the emergency meeting, political and military countermeasures aimed to smash the enemy's war provocations were discussed while the military's combat plan of the frontline command was approved, according to the KCNA.

How did it come to this you ask? Below is the amusing backstory...

North Korea’s Kim Jong-un - the world’s sabre rattler par excellence - doesn’t like to stray too far from the spotlight when it comes to global conflict, which is why we weren’t terribly surprised when, a few days ago, the pariah state threatened to invade the US mainland and use "weapons unknown to the world."

Of course a lot of what goes on inside the country is "unknown to the world", much as the world is largely "unknown" to North Koreans and that’s just fine with Kim, whose regime depends on a combination of propaganda and censorship to keep the populace transfixed in a perpetual state of hypnotic hero worship. Of course the West and its allies - and now even China - have a tendency to dismiss Kim’s threats as the ravings of a delusional child, which is why occasionally, Pyongyang will actually fire a missile into the ocean or execute a member of the military top brass with an anti aircraft gun just to remind everyone that the regime isn’t totally bluffing. 

Given Pyongyang’s propensity for lobbing bombastic threats that, were they to emanate from virtually any other government on the planet would be met with a sharp rebuke, it’s something of a miracle that sour relations between Kim and US ally South Korea haven’t already produced an armed conflict, and as Bloomberg reports, the "maiming" of two South Korean soldiers along the DMZ and subsequent "blaring of propaganda through loudspeakers" by the South culminated in the exchange of artillery fire on Thursday, marking the worst escalation between the two countries in five years. Here’s more:

North and South Korea exchanged fire across the demilitarized zone between the two countries in one of the worst incidents since 2010, sparking fears that hostilities will worsen.

 

The incident started when North Korea fired a rocket at a South Korean border area, prompting Seoul’s forces to reply with an artillery barrage. It was unclear whether there were any casualties.

 

Tensions have flared in recent weeks across the so-called DMZ that bisects the Korean peninsula. Two South Korean soldiers were maimed on Aug. 4 by land mines that the Seoul government says were recently laid by North Korea. Pyongyang denied any role in the blasts.

 

Relations deteriorated further when South Korea started blaring propaganda at the North through loudspeakers along the DMZ. After today’s exchange, North Korea threatened to “start a military action” unless South Korea stops all propaganda broadcasts and withdraws the loudspeakers within 48 hours.

 

“The ball is in North Korea’s court now,” Koh Yu Hwan, professor of North Korea studies at Dongguk University in Seoul, said by phone. “If North Korea decides to fire back, that means the conflict will broaden, something probably neither Korea wants.”

 

Today’s exchange was among the most serious since North Korea shelled a front-line island in the south in 2010, killing two marines and two civilians. Last year, their ships exchanged warning fire near a disputed Yellow Sea boundary.

 

South Korea’s military remains on heightened alert after today’s incident and is closely monitoring the situation, the Defense Ministry said in an e-mailed statement. The exchange began when North Korea fired a single rocket across the border, the ministry said. South Korean troops fired “dozens of shells” back, the statement said.

And while the above would suggest that North Korea was largely responsible for the escalation by firing "a rocket" at South Korean positions, it looks like it's also possible that the North was shooting at a loudspeaker after its soldiers tired of an endless stream of broadcasted rheotric. Here's CNN:

South Korea also has accused the North of planting mines, an allegation that Pyongyang denies.

 

Seoul vowed a "harsh" response to the landmines and resumed blaring propaganda messages over the border from huge loudspeakers.

 

The move infuriated North Korea, which called the broadcasting "a direct action of declaring a war." Over the weekend, it threatened to blow up the South Korean speakers and also warned of "indiscriminate strikes."

 

And a U.S. official told CNN's Barbara Starr that the U.S. believes that North Korea fired a shot at a South Korean loudspeaker, and South Korea responded with 36 artillery shells.

So an eye for an eye, we suppose. You shoot at our loudspeakers, and we'll resort to heavy artillery fire. Here's a look at one of the loudspeakers South Korea installed along the border in the wake of the land mine incident: 

We shall see, in the days and weeks ahead, if a pot-shot at a speaker system will go down in history as the event that triggered another war in the Korean Peninsula, but in the meantime, we would caution observers that determining whose account offers a more accurate description of when exactly things started to go wrong will be more difficult than usual this time around because thanks to Kim's move to establish his own time zone earlier this week, the two countries are half an hour apart.