The Korean government will form a multinational committee of U.S., British, Australian and Swedish experts to probe the sinking of the naval patrol ship Cheonan, in addition to setting up a joint civic-military investigation panel. The four countries accepted Korea`s request for cooperation. The civic-military committee will also increase the participation of civilians, including representatives from the missing crewmen`s families and those recommended by the National Assembly. An active general and one civilian will co-chair the panel.
Seoul is also considering asking a U.N. agency to verify the results of the probe. All of these moves are intended to enhance the investigations credibility through objective and scientific study of the incident`s cause. The measures are necessary for Korea to win international recognition of its investigation and support for follow-up measures.
What must be done right now becomes clearer if Korea sees how other developed countries responded to attacks on national security. After the 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S., Washington formed a bipartisan fact-finding committee of five members from each of the ruling and opposition parties. The panel investigated thousands of American citizens and foreigners and reviewed millions of government documents. It concluded that despite several opportunities to prevent terrorism, the attacks occurred because of systemic flaws, urging an overhaul in the U.S. national security system. Washington knew that Al Qaeda was responsible, but a thorough and persistent investigation unveiled internal problems that led to failure to stop the attacks.
To prevent the sunken ship fiasco from negatively affecting Korea`s sovereign credit rating, Seoul sent letters to the world`s three major credit rating agencies -- Moody`s, Standard & Poors and Fitch saying the incident had a limited impact on the domestic economy. On the Korean Peninsula, where the two Koreas remain technically at war, any security-related incident places an additional risk-management burden on the Korean government. Simple lip service will not help. Far more effective for risk management and international credibility is if Seoul can instill into the world confidence that the government is capable of coping with any national crisis.
The Korean military seemed confused in the early days after the incident and exposed serious flaws in its response posture and reporting and verification system. Politicians, instead of feeling a sense of responsibility, put forth politically motivated hypotheses and speculation. Though the surviving crewmen held a news conference despite their psychological and physical wounds, certain opposition lawmakers downplayed their efforts by saying the news conference seemed scripted. This attitude will not help solidify internal unity, let alone raise global confidence in Korea.
The world is watching closely how Korea handles this incident, which deserves to be called a crisis of national security. Be it the government, military or political circle, Korea must not forget that its combined ability to respond to this crisis is being tested in the eyes of the international community.