The events unfolding today in the Koreas are of course deeply worrying. For two countries that have technically been at war for over half a century, anything can tip the fragile situation over the age and lead to a resumption of hostilities. North Korea is rightly seen as a pariah, and the blame has naturally fallen on the country for what has happened today, based on the little information has come out from both nations. The North Korean response that  “The South Korean enemy, despite our repeated warnings, committed reckless military provocations of firing artillery shells into our maritime territory near Yeonpyeong island… [Pyongyang] will continue to make merciless military attacks with no hesitation if the South Korean enemy dares to invade our sea territory by 0.001mm.”.. does not exactly fill one with confidence that they are an innocent party.

I’ve just read the short but interesting little piece by Bertrand Russell called ‘Unarmed Victory’, following the events of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Sino-Indian border dispute. These cases highlight quite well, at least from Russell’s point of view, how any objectivity, even when things seem so clear, can easily be lost due to ideological leanings. Now I don’t know anyone who supports North Korea, even to those who hold similar political heroes as they purport are mindful enough to steer well clear. But the response is pretty similar to the response to Russia and China in the 1960s. Both states were seen as a the guilty party, and even when they made grand concessions, were still seen as double crossers. Despite the fact, according to Russell, that both had quite strong cases in their relative disputes. Now of course, to suggest South Korea is to blame is premature. But then, despite everything we know, States, the media, and individuals are already coming to blame the North, and this too is also premature. I’m sure as the day goes on, they may be proved right, if we are to ever know (doubt, though less doubt, still hangs over the South Korean sub sunk a while ago), but laying the blame so soon is counter-productive, if peace is the aim. The media and individuals you expect it of, but States should know better.

Things are never as clear cut as they are made out to be, especially in disputes such as these. Mistakes can be made. The US almost attacked Russia during the Cold War due to simple errors in radar systems, and I believe even a bear near a military base at one point. Peace is fragile. The interesting thing in this case is the South have come out and said they were performing military tests in the region before they were fired upon. They claimed they fired West, and not North. This is along a fragile and disputed border. There is room for error therefore, on both sides. The South Koreans may have fired too far North-West and provoked the North. Or the North may have felt they were fired upon, incorrectly, and retaliated. But performing such measures so close to a tense border is bound to increase tensions and is surely ill-advised.

Of course an additional problem in all this could be the fact the UN Secretary General is from South Korea. I’m a firm believer that you can easily jettison your countries interests for the greater good, and I’m sure Mr. Ban has this capacity, but this doesn’t change the fact that many people, especially the North and its allies, may see him as having a bias in this situation, which cannot make UN arbitration in this dispute very easy. It surely raises questions over a Secretary General coming from a state that is technically at war with another state.

This renewed conflict is only a few hours old, and anything can change over the next few hours. The South tends to make some ill-thought out moves to which the North can have rightful anger, at least from past history, and the South of course has very just concerns that it shares a border with an insane, nuclear-armed state. Hopefully, things will calm again, although a diplomatic settlement is highly likely. The best we can hope for is that the big guns aren’t brought out, and other states don’t become involved militarily.