Are Cooler Heads Ready to Prevail in Korea?

After several weeks of rising tensions and ever present threats of violence, both North and South Korea might finally be ready to start slowly backing away from each other with firing any shots.

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After several weeks of rising tensions and ever-present threats of violence, both North and South Korea might finally be ready to start slowly backing away from each other without firing any shots. The last two days have looked a little bit like a cool down period, with the threats from the North becoming slightly less belligerent and chatter on both sides leaning toward a cease and desist.

Not that tensions have completely been erased or their threats ended. You can't shut off that spigot overnightThe North's official news site is still talking toughbut it seems to have made a subtle shift from "we're definitely gone unleash some fire on you" to "don't give us a reason to unleash some fire on you." Yes, statements like "Just pressing the button will be enough to turn the strongholds of the enemies into the sea of fire" sound pretty menacing, but the North also followed that up by saying they will "carry on production and construction till midnight today and have children taught at schools even though a war might break out tomorrow." So they still could blow up the world (or a small part of the ocean), but they are admitting they don't really have to and could still feel okay about themselves if they don't.

The South also appears willing to take a deep breath and not do anything crazy, even suggesting that "dialogue"—not butting heads against the wall—is the answer. Both sides are still blaming the other for escalating the situation, but that actually opens the door for each side to try and take credit for the eventual de-escalation. With reports this week that officials from the DPRK and the U.S. tried to open a private backchannel for peace talks, the possibility has arisen that a face saving measure for both sides could theoretically be in the works. 

There are also signs that even the North gets that all the talk is just that: talk. Reporters in both Seoul and Pyongyang say neither side is really ramping up for war. Tour groups are still flooding Pyongyang, average citizens are going about their usual business, and Steve Herman of Voice of America says the local news in the North didn't even bring up missile launches or war threats last night. Perhaps that tough rehetoric is soley for the benefit of the West, and not being used to fire up their own citizens for combat.

Of course, all it takes is one more press release for all that to change tomorrow, but those hoping for a standdown—and no provocative missile tests—should be slightly more hopeful today than they were yesterday.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.