U.S. 'Feared Escalation After Yeonpyeong Attack'

      March 09, 2012 12:20

      Washington feared a military confrontation between North and South Korea following the North's shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in November 2010, a former White House insider writes.

      Jeffrey Bader

      Jeffrey Bader, the ex-senior director for East Asian affairs at the White House's National Security Council, writes in his book "Obama and China's Rise" due out later this month that South Korea was "considering retaliation well beyond a local response" if the North launched another provocation during artillery drills after the Yeonpyeong incident.

      He says tensions mounted after the South Korean military announced it would hold the artillery drills in waters off Yeonpyeong Island after the North Korean attack. From the U.S. standpoint, there were concerns that the situation could escalate beyond control if it did not explain clearly to Seoul which types of support it could offer and which were not possible, he adds.

      Bader says there was debate in the NSC about the South Korean drills. Some felt that a live-fire drill was not acceptable at a time when the USS George Washington was set to enter the West Sea, while others felt that although all steps needed to be taken to prevent an escalation in tensions, the U.S. needed to support the drills. Bader says he agreed with the latter opinion.

      The deployment of the nuclear-powered USS George Washington sent an "importance message to Beijing: North Korean provocations would induce U.S. and South Korean responses not at all to their liking.... Washington hoped this would encourage China to refrain North Korea in the future," according to Bader.

      Bader sat in the NSC situation room with Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough on the evening of Dec. 19, 2010 when the South Korean artillery drills began. The two watched the drills on a monitor that was linked to the military command center at the Pentagon. He concludes he was finally able to head home at 2 a.m. relieved to see that there was no further escalation in tensions.

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