This picture taken by a South Korean tourist shows huge plumes of smoke rising from Yeonpyeong island in the disputed waters of the Yellow Sea on November 23, 2010. North Korea fired dozens of artillery shells onto a South Korean island killing two people, setting homes ablaze, and triggering an exchange of fire as the South's military went on top alert.
In the almost 60 years since the end of the Korean War there have been dozens, if not hundreds, of small skirmishes between North & South Korea that, while potentially disastrous, have not yet ignited the dormant tinder box that is the heavily militarized Korean Peninsula. This morning another one of those skirmishes broke out, this time after North Korea fired dozens of artillery shells at a South Korean island killing two marines and injuring several civilians. As is the case with many of these exchanges there are broader political implications and a larger backdrop to the hostilities—North Korea just revealed it was nearing completion on a new nuclear reactor, South Korea was holding military exercises in the area around Yeonpyeong island and tensions are still high after the North sank a South Korean naval vessel in March, killing 46 sailors in the process. North Korea is usually looking for some kind of payoff when it starts these fights, whether its food aid, new negotiations with the U.S. or just plain old attention. What is the North looking for this time around and will this be the small skirmish that burns into full blown war?
Gordon Chang, Forbes.com columnist and author of Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes On the World