Should South Korea stick to its guns?

South Korea flexed its military muscles, despite dire retaliatory threats from Pyongyang. Who stands to lose in this high-stakes poker game?

South Korean marines patrol Yeonpyeong Island after the country fired shells into waters claimed by both Koreas.
(Image credit: Getty)

Defying threats of "brutal consequences beyond imagination" from North Korea, and pleas from Russia and China, South Korea conducted 90 minutes of live-ammunition military exercises on Monday off Yeonpyeong Island. The North's deadly shelling of Yeonpyeong in November sparked the latest round of tensions, and Seoul's hard-line response is popular with angry South Koreans. But is ratcheting up already-high tensions really the best plan? (Watch the U.N. Security Council's comments)

The South has good reason to act tough: South Korea usually backs down amid the "overblown threats" from "its buck-wild northern cousin," says Spencer Ackerman in Wired. But that strategy has been a "political disaster for Seoul" this year. And since Pyongyang doesn't seem to be gearing up for a retaliation, what's the harm in pushing back with some warning shots away from North Korea?

"Second Korean War to start today (or not)"

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Any conflict will only hurt the South: South Koreans' new, "understandable" thirst for vengeance puts the Koreas closer to war than at any time in the past 25 years, says Andrei Lankov in The Korea Times. But "if anything, a powerful strike which is much hoped for by the public, will damage the South Korean economy." Seoul shouldn't necessarily "turn the other cheek," but unlike the North's Kim Jong Il, the South has a lot to lose from a fight.

"No revenge is best revenge"

The real loser is the U.S.: More ominous than South Korea's military exercises are its air-raid drills and investment in bomb shelters, says Robert Haddick in Foreign Policy. That means it really is gearing up for a smaller-level skirmishes with the North. So Pyongyang won't get its "payoff" for acting up this time, but the real cost could be borne by the U.S: A "small war" on the peninsula would be like Afghanistan, but with much more expensive weapons.

"Could North Korea be the next Afghanistan?"

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