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Time for Resolute Action

Posted May. 24, 2010 01:50,   


The naval patrol ship Cheonan was sunk by a North Korean torpedo. The joint investigation team comprising experts from South Korea, the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Australia and Sweden said Thursday that North Korea attacked the vessel with its own heavy CHD-02D torpedo. Korean letters reading “No. 1” were inside the rear part of a North Korean torpedo collected from waters where the vessel sank. The specifications of the torpedo parts matched the CHT-02D design in a book published by North Korea for the purpose of arms sales. The investigation team has fortunately found decisive evidence showing the North’s involvement in the Cheonan incident. U.S., British, Australian and Swedish experts on the team unanimously agreed on the probe results.

The South Korean presidential office said Thursday, “President Lee Myung-bak is resolutely dealing with the incident as the highest-ranking person in the administration as well as the country’s commander-in-chief,” adding, “President Lee will soon decide on stern measures to hold North Korea accountable.” The world has also urged a strong and swift response to the sinking. The U.S. blasted the North for committing a provocation that killed 46 South Korean sailors. Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama told a Cabinet meeting that Pyongyang’s act cannot be tolerated. The U.K. also said the world community and Britain will consider taking multilateral countermeasures against North Korea while maintaining close cooperation with South Korea.

North Korea issued a statement 30 minutes after the investigation team’s announcement saying the probe results were fabricated. The National Defense Commission, the North’s most powerful government body, said, “We will dispatch a National Defense Commission investigation team to South Korea.” This means the culprit wants to investigate the crime scene. Apparently embarrassed by the clear material evidence, a brazen-faced North Korea said, “We will sternly react to sanctions and take action, including all-out war.” Firm measures and thorough preparation are needed in case Pyongyang launches more provocations.

The North has plotted provocations against South Korea and the international community under the guise of peace, dialogue and exchange over the past six decades since the end of the Korea War. The provocations include the North’s 1968 commando attack on South Korea’s presidential office; the 1987 mid-air bombing of a Korean Air passenger plane; and the 1983 Aung San bombing in Burma. Pyongyang speaks of a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula and a peace treaty, but has developed nuclear arms and missiles. The North also engaged in the six-party nuclear talks to buy time and conducted two nuclear tests.

To ensure stability in Northeast Asia and world peace, the international community should unite to punish North Korea. The North’s nuclear and missile development and provocations against the South threaten Northeast Asian stability, something which the U.S., Japan, China and Russia all have a stake in. If nuclear weapons and materials and missiles and their parts developed by North Korea are transferred to terrorist groups, this will threaten world peace. To turn North Korea into a normal country, the world must devise concrete and effective countermeasures and implement them orderly and swiftly. The U.N. Security Council, whose aim is to maintain world peace, should also take the lead in such efforts.

The U.S. has reaffirmed its strong bilateral alliance with and showed complete trust in South Korea since the Cheonan incident. In her planned visit to Seoul Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will convey Washington’s clear message to Seoul. Through the opportunity, the U.S. should consider delaying the transfer of wartime operational command back to the South scheduled for 2012 and putting back the North on the U.S terrorism list. Washington also needs to lead the U.N. Security Council to impose additional sanctions on Pyongyang and resume financial sanctions such as freezing North Korean accounts at Banco Delta Asia.

If China defends North Korea’s provocation and neutralizes international sanctions, it will risk losing the confidence of the international community. If Beijing wants stability in Northeast Asia and world peace, it should use the cane on Pyongyang.

Seoul should prepare for additional provocations by Pyongyang while beefing up its weaknesses as shown by the Cheonan sinking over the long term. The South Korean military was taken by surprise. Though it checked the movement of North Korean submarines and submersibles, it never imagined that the subs could infiltrate South Korean waters and fire a torpedo at a warship. In a sense, the South Korean military grew complacent after victories in three inter-Korean naval skirmishes in the Yellow Sea over the last 10 years.

The Cheonan incident also left a lesion on Seoul showing that it must thoroughly be prepared for any terrorist attack by Pyongyang, whose small subs could attack South Korean warships and commercial vessels in the air, ground and sea. While the South has around 10 submarines, the North has more than 70 and has 180,000 special forces who could infiltrate the South’s rear areas to disrupt society. Pyongyang’s chemical and biological weapons can also push Seoul into panic. Nothing about the North’s arsenal should be disregarded.

The South should also review its budget for the modernization of its weapons systems. Small vessels under 1,000 tons constitute the core of the North Korean navy, so the South should not simply focus on possessing large vessels under the goal of building an ocean-going navy. It should heed the argument for strengthening coastal capabilities because coping with a clear and present danger is more urgent.

The Cheonan’s sinking has exposed problems in the South Korean military, including lack of intelligence on the North’s tactics and surprise provocations, defects in the operational command system and emergency maneuvers, and cracks in the combined operations of the Army, Navy and Air Force. Strengthening the single command system with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the center is urgent.

Main opposition Democratic Party Chairman Chung Sye-kyun demanded Thursday that President Lee Myung-bak, commander-in-chief of South Korea, apologize for failing to prevent the attack and for his Cabinet to resign en masse. The party, however, should first apologize to the public for defending the North by criticizing the Lee administration`s blame of Pyongyang without grounds.

The president, his office and senior military officials should reflect on the warship’s sinking. The public has the right to hold the government responsible for the lapse in the national security system. The Democratic Party and left-wing groups, however, have no right to demand an apology. In the 2002 inter-Korean naval skirmish, the South Korean Navy lost six men because of the strict rules of engagement laid out by then President Kim Dae-jung, who used the “sunshine policy” of engagement with the North. He left for Japan the following day to attend the closing ceremony of the World Cup. Democratic Party floor leader Park Jie-won must have seen what happened at the time as one of the closest aides to President Kim. For the opposition party to call the incumbent administration inept at national security because of the Cheonan sinking is hypocritical.

Roh Hoe-chan, the chairman of the New Progressive Party who is running for Seoul mayor, said Thursday that concluding that the North sank the Cheonan based on the debris of a North Korean torpedo lifted from the sea is akin to assuming that a rock on the street is from the Stone Age. This comment mocks the conclusion reached by the joint investigation group of some 130 domestic and foreign experts that probed the cause of the disaster. Those who turn a blind eye to clear evidence and side with the North must be deemed anti-national security forces.

The South Korean people are enraged over the North’s worst provocation since Pyongyang started the Korean War. The two previous administrations in Seoul gave 8.38 trillion won (seven billion U.S. dollars) to the North under the sunshine policy. North Korean leader Kim Jong Il used the money to attack the Cheonan in addition to maintaining his luxurious lifestyle and developing nuclear weapons. He used South Korean taxpayers’ money to take the lives of South Korean servicemen.

The South Korean people should not simply get angry over the North’s crime. They must channel their wisdom and national power to work with the international community and make the North pay for what it did.