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Level-headed Response

Posted April. 01, 2010 02:58,   


Five days have passed since the sinking of the naval patrol ship Cheonan in waters off Baengnyeong Island, but none of the 46 missing crewmen have been rescue. The lack of progress in the rescue efforts is a source of deep regret. Criticism of the military is mounting over its mishandling of the situation soon after the incident. Speculation is rampant over the cause of the sinking. Rival political parties are locking horns over the opposition’s proposal to form a parliamentary committee to probe the fiasco.

The military made mistakes to a certain extent in coping with the situation, but is doing all it can to rescue the missing sailors and identify the cause. Naval divers are conducting rescue operations at great risk to their lives amid the toughest conditions, even without the necessary gear for deep sea diving. They would not do this if not for their patriotism and spirit of sacrifice. President Lee Myung-bak has held four meetings of security-related ministers and personally visited the site of the sinking and nearby Baengnyeong Island.

Politicians should not discuss countermeasures based on unconfirmed speculation over the cause. The best thing for authorities to do is to conduct a probe, leaving open all possibilities. If North Korea caused the Cheonan to sink, South Korea can discuss the proper response at that time. If the North intruded into South Korean waters, destroyed a vessel, and killed soldiers, this constitutes an act of aggression that is unforgivable. Seoul must prepare for scenarios to thoroughly counter the situation in all of its myriad possibilities.

Finding the exact cause of the Cheonan’s sinking is far from easy. It could take one or two months to raise the sunken vessel and finish the investigation. Even if a sea mine or torpedo is found to have caused the mishap, proving the North’s responsibility is another matter entirely. This is why Seoul is taking a cautious stance. Kim Seong-mahn, former commander of the Navy’s operational command who was once captain of the Cheonan, said, “If the government reacts based on speculation and then the incident is found to have resulted from a completely unexpected cause, South Korea could lose face,” urging everyone to calmly wait for the results of the probe.

For now, the best strategy is to focus on rescuing the missing servicemen, trust the government and military to identify the cause of the sinking, and patiently wait for the probe results. Groundless speculation or pressure is never helpful to uncovering the truth. If the military erred in its handling of the incident, it can be held accountable later. The political circle will only add to unnecessary suspicions if it discusses the matter. Civic groups should not intervene, either.

The Cheonan debacle is directly linked to national security. More than anything, Seoul must thoroughly probe the incident to cover even trivial elements of suspicion, and announce the results in the most transparent fashion.