The recent landmine explosions in the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ), which separates North and South Koreas, may lead to an increase in the risk of escalation of incidents between the two countries, a report by IHS Country Risk senior analyst Alison Evans has revealed.
Two South Korean soldiers were injured in the landmine explosion that occurred on 4 August, leading to an exchange of artillery fire between the two countries.
Evans said the US and South Korea annual military exercise, Ulchi Freedom Guardian will also contribute to the risk increase. North Korea has routinely condemned the exercise as preparation for an offensive attack since it started in 1976.
South Korea’s doctrine is also said to be another catalyst that increases the risk of escalation.
A South Korean Defence white paper published in 2002 said: "The RoK military will decisively strike not only the origin of enemy provocation, but also the command and support forces behind the provocation."
Evans claimed that this policy change offers the country the scope to pre-emptively strike North Korean targets, rather than respond to an attack by the country with ‘proportionate’ retaliation.
Based on the ability to increase risk, the most likely escalation pathways include exchange of broadcast or leafleted messages across the DMZ, a cyber-attack on South Korean assets, artillery fire across the Northern Limit Line (NLL), and North Korean missile or rocket tests, as well as exchange of fire, excluding small arms, across the DMZ.
According to South Korean military reports, Pyongyang fired several anti-aircraft shells near Yeoncheon in South Korea’s Gyeonggi Province on 20 August leading to evacuation of residents.
The shells were believed to be aimed at stopping the country from broadcasting anti-North Korean messages across the DMZ, which seeks to persuade the North to accept the responsibility for landmine blast and render an apology, Reuters reported.
A South Korean Defence Ministry spokesperson said the country responded by firing dozens of 155mm artillery rounds towards the detected source of the projectile from North Korea.
The South Korean military services currently remain on the highest alert level.
Image: A South Korean sentry manning a checkpoint near the demilitarised zone. Photo: courtesy of Johannes Barre.