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Decisive Action Needed

Posted April. 26, 2010 15:18,   


The civilian-military joint investigation team probing the sinking of the naval patrol vessel Cheonan said yesterday, “Inspection of the severed part in the bow and inside and outside of the vessel has found that the cause of the sinking was most likely a non-contact underwater explosion.” This suggests that pressure from an underwater explosion split the Cheonan into two, rather than an explosion directly striking the vessel.” The team stopped short of saying whether the explosive was a torpedo or a floating mine, however, as well as the possibility of a “bubble jet” effect. In its first announcement, the team said, “An inspection with the naked eye into the severed part in the stern showed the sinking was likely caused by an external explosion."

“We will identify the cause at an early date by conducting a close inspection and simulation,” the team said, indicating that it has reached a preliminary conclusion to a significant extent. After finding the exact cause of the sinking, what the government and military should do next is to take thorough and careful countermeasures. President Lee Myung-bak has repeatedly said, “The government will take decisive countermeasures according to the results of the inspection.” He said this in a Cabinet meeting April 6, an interview with the Washington Post April 11, a radio speech April 19, a luncheon with retired generals last Thursday, and a luncheon with former presidents Friday. The president pledged to the retired generals, “I’ll take clear and decisive countermeasures through action rather than words.”

If decisiveness in words is not translated into decisiveness in action, chances are high that North Korea could belittle South Korea as a “paper tiger,” and grow bolder in its threats and acts of aggression. If the government fails to cope promptly and decisively, the sense of hopelessness among the South Korean public and military could pose a major threat to national security. South Korea will have to act against North Korea not only with the backing of the U.N. and the international community, but also with its effective countermeasures. Seoul must ensure that Pyongyang realizes the hefty price it will pay for an act of aggression.

North Korea stepped up its propaganda campaign on the occasion of the 78th anniversary of its army Sunday. Its military chief of staff Ri Yong Ho blamed the South for the sinking of the Cheonan, calling it a “plot to start a war of invasion.” “If the South invades our sky, land and sea even by 0.001 millimeter, we will completely crush this act of aggression by mobilizing all means, including our nuclear deterrence,” he said. Seoul has no reason to fear such a routine verbal threat by Pyongyang, however. If Pyongyang starts a war, it will signal the end of the Kim Jong Il government.

Moody’s recently upgraded South Korea’s sovereign credit rating from “A2” to “A1,” based on the likelihood of no extreme situation like war on the Korean Peninsula. If the South takes too lukewarm a response to the Cheonan incident, however, this could incur additional costs in national security. Seoul’s capacity to manage crisis is being tested amid keen global attention.