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[Editorial] Stern Response Needed Against NK

Posted November. 11, 2009 08:24,   


The two Koreas yesterday had a naval skirmish off the west coast due to North Korea’s provocation, the third such clash after those in 1999 and 2002. A North Korean patrol ship crossed the Northern Limit Line, the de facto maritime border between the two Koreas off the west coast, before firing at a South Korean naval vessel. The South demanded that the North Korean ship go back via warnings and warning shots. The North Korean vessel ignored them, however, and fired back. The South Korean Navy did what it had to do – fire back under the rules of engagement.

Though the skirmish lasted just two minutes, it will likely have a huge impact on inter-Korean relations. More than anything, it was a reminder that the forces in power in the North are an anti-peace and bellicose group. It also asks if the previous two inter-Korean summits were a false peace offensive. It is obvious that peaceful coexistence between the two Koreas is not what North Korea has in mind. More obvious is the North’s obsession with nuclear weapons development. The communist state simply continues its nuclear arms buildup and provocations to maintain its regime.

The provocation came just a day after the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Pyongyang might also have considered U.S. President Barack Obama’s planned visit to Seoul next week. The situation North Korea is in is far worse than that of East Germany before reunification. Pyongyang is attempting to escalate tension to attract international attention while diverting domestic unease.

In a cheeky example of counter propaganda, the North blamed the South for yesterday`s naval clash and demanded an apology. If Pyongyang considers the Lee Myung-bak administration the same as its predecessors, it is seriously mistaken. Yesterday, the South Korean military did not tolerate the North’s provocation and Seoul immediately held a security-related ministers’ meeting on follow-up measures. The North’s custom of conducting provocations and labeling can no longer work.

Seoul should sternly respond to prevent another skirmish and the situation from deteriorating. It must also file a protest to the North and demand a pledge against a recurrence. The South Korean military should be thoroughly prepared to respond to any other provocations by North Korea.

North Korea, which had been hit hard by the South Korean Navy in the first naval clash in 1997, launched a surprise provocation seven years ago. Considering the damage the North suffered in the latest skirmish, Pyongyang might be trying to find a way to retaliate.

Concerted efforts between South Korea and the United States are also necessary to cope with North Korean provocations. Washington should see if resuming talks with Pyongyang is appropriate for stability on the Korean Peninsula.

Opportunely, some 10 former deputy commanders of the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command sent letters to the leaders of the two countries, urging them to reconsider the planned transfer of wartime operational control of the South Korean military to Seoul in 2012. President Lee and U.S. President Barack Obama should meet this call to ease security fears on the Korean Peninsula.