On the sinking of the naval patrol ship Cheonan, ruling Grand National Party floor leader Ahn Sang-soo said yesterday, We will cooperate in forming a parliamentary investigation team. The National Assembly as the countrys representative body is naturally obliged to step up the probe into an incident directly related to national security. Investigative activities could face limits, however, due to its relatively weak expertise. The cause of the Cheonans sinking can be accurately identified only after a joint investigation team of 108 public and private experts do their work after salvaging the hull. A meeting between the heads of the U.S. and Korean militaries is expected to agree on deploying a team of U.S. experts on naval weapons and accidents to identify the cause of the incident.
If the investigative activities of the National Assembly are misled by political interests due to the upcoming local elections, this could distort the truth or hinder the efforts to identify the cause. Exposing confidential military information in the course of the investigation by lawmakers could also threaten national security. On why the Cheonan was near Baengnyeong Island, the Defense Ministry disclosed that it was to prepare for new forms of a North Korean attack (after a naval skirmish near Daecheong Island). Also made open was the status of South Koreas watch on a North Korean submarine base and the shooting range of the patrol boats 76-millimeter main gun and shooting angle. These disclosures had much to do with political pressure. Unfortunately, it is clearly not in the nations interest to unveil classified information directly related to military operations due to external pressure.
The main opposition Democratic Party should not rule out the possibility of North Koreas involvement in the sinking. Rather it should be open to all possibilities in the investigation. It is also inappropriate for the party to demand the resignation of the defense minister and chief of naval operations before accurately identifying cause of the incident and who is responsible. When the 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S. destroyed the World Trade Center in New York and heavily damaged the Pentagon, no American government or military official resigned. In a joint congressional session attended by then U.S. President George W. Bush on an investigation report, both Democrats and Republicans expressed support for the government with a standing ovation. Americans also expressed love for their country by hanging their national flag on their homes and cars.
Koreas ruling and the opposition parties might be divided over how they see the incident. They should, however, set aside their differences when it comes to national security, which determines the fate of the Korean people and nation. No mistake can be tolerated in national security. Parliament must find out if military authorities concealed any loopholes in national security to avoid responsibilities and whether the national crisis response system is functioning properly. Consequently, they need to come up with countermeasures.