Bombing North Korea's sacred statues would be gratifying but foolish

Today, North Korea scolded the South for its reported plan to destroy two giant bronze statues in Pyongyang if the North issues any further provocations. Experts on the conflict, speaking with Foreign Policy today, tend to agree with the North: This would be a really bad idea.

The South Korean plan first surfaced yesterday in the Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo, which cited government sources saying a surgical strike on statues of patriarchs Kim Jong il and Kim il Sung would convey an important message to the North Koreans:

The statues are considered sacred in the North, and any damage to them could deliver a huge psychological impact. "If North Korea launches another provocation, our military has developed a plan to respond with air-to-surface and surface-to-surface missiles to strike not only the source of provocation as well as support and command forces, but also some statues of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il," a government source here said Sunday.

The towering bronze statues deifying the late Korean leaders reside atop Mansudae Hill in Pyongyang. While the analysts we spoke to noted that South Korea has patiently endured military bombardments, provocations and insults from the North for years, they raised a number of concerns about the wisdom of the hypothetical strike:

Technically, this would be difficult to pull off

"It doesn't make sense to me," Michael Green, senior vice president for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told FP. "The air defenses around Pyongyang are much tougher than around the naval and air installations on the West Sea. I think their general practice in the South will be to hit the regional command HQ responsible for any provocative strike --and the most likely spot for a NK hit would be on the West Sea."

These statues are a non-strategic target. The strike wouldn't be worth it

Wiping out the statues would be gratifying from a nationalistic standpoint, noted Scott Snyder, senior fellow for Korea Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. "I think this stems from a strong South Korean determination to send a message to North Korea that nuclear weapons acquisition has not given North Korea the capacity to use its nuclear status as an instrument of blackmail toward the South," he told FP. But Snyder emphasized that the statues are "non-strategic targets." Not only would they not weaken North Korea's military, but hitting them wouldn't guarantee a proportional response from the North. " The South Korean response places a premium on the North ensuring that it also has a plan for managing escalation control stemming from any conflict." Of course, no one can say for sure what the North would do.

Are you crazy? This would ignite a Second Korean War.

Jae H. Ku, director of the U.S.-South Korean Institute at Johns Hopkins, said this kind of a strike would almost certainly escalate the conflict beyond anyone's control. "If South Korea were to bomb the statues, this would effectively be the start of the Second Korean War," he said. "Bombing Mansudae Hill would be like the North Koreans bombing the Blue House [the South Korean president's residence]. How can either country stand down from that?"


Violent clashes erupt after Egyptian student sit-in

Who knew calling for pedestrian safety could be so dangerous? Earlier today, skirmishes between students and the guards at Egypt's Misr International University resulted in bloodshed following a 15 day sit-in to protest the suspension of 16 students and expulsion of eight.

The suspended students had been calling for greater safety measures after several incidents of pedestrians being hit, hospitalized, and even killed by traffic outside the university. As reported by the Daily News Egypt:

[On March 3], students demanded a pedestrians' bridge outside the university gate to prevent accidents. Protesting students marched to [the University Deputy Chairman Hamdy] Hassan's office to put forward their demand. They claim to have been stopped by the security personnel.

"We have a video of Hassan asking the security personnel to beat anybody who tries to move forward," said Bassem, another MIU student who preferred to withhold his last name. "In another video, Hassan threatens to kill any student who approaches his office."

Hassan denied these claims. "I told the protesting students we could meet in one of the lecture halls; my office was too small to fit us all in," he said, adding that there were between 70 and 100 protesters. "They insisted on coming into the office, so I asked the security personnel to prevent them from breaking into the office, giving them clear instructions not to beat any of them."

Hassan said that after this incident, the university chairman referred the students involved to investigation. The students accuse the administration of arbitrarily suspending students. "We don't even have disciplinary bylaws to resort to," Mustafa said.

Things escalated quickly when protesting students tried entering the campus today. They were met by security who used "rubber bullets, rocks, and fire extinguisher gas." Photos emerging show many with head injuries from bird shot. Video shows the state of chaos around the campus. It's currently unclear if it's campus security or hired security that's engaging in attacks.


Classes have been suspended until further notice.