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Posts Tagged ‘Cheonan’

From the AP:

“If the (South Korean) enemies try to deal any retaliation or punishment, or if they try sanctions or a strike on us …. we will answer to this with all-out war,” Col. Pak In Ho of North Korea’s navy told broadcaster APTN in an exclusive interview in Pyongyang.

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1.  What will China do?  What else can the international community agree to do to North Korea?  Stephan Haggard of UC-San Diego doesn’t think there is much they can/will do: “South Korea may want to take this issue to the U.N. Security Council, but I don’t see anything that the five Security Council members can sign on to other than what they have been already doing” 

So, the ball would then be back in South Korea’s court.  And I think doing essentially little to nothing in the absence of international action would send the wrong signal to the North.  Furthermore, how would a minimalist response impact the conservative ruling party that came to power promising a tougher line than its predecessor and its “Sunshine Policy”? 

2.  President Lee Myung-bak met with all of his top military commanders todayThis is the first time such a meeting like this has ever happened in South Korea.  I wish I could have been a fly on the wall!  Preparedness was on the agenda. 

3.  Two top South Korean officials have vowed revenge.  Last week, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Kim Sung-chan said: “We’ll never forgive whoever inflicted this great pain on us. We will track them down to the end and we will, by all means, make them pay.”  This week, Defense Minister Kim Tae-young reportedly argued: “I agree with Adm. Kim.  After finding the cause of the incident, we should pay back those responsible for killing our sailors. That’s my opinion.”  He also added, “retaliation, in whatever form it takes, must be done.”

But what do other key leaders in South Korea think?  And what about those in other states?

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Update: This (see below left) is something the South Korean government does not want to disrupt with a war:

The LA Times has an article in yesterday’s paper discussing the possibility North Korea used a submersible suicide bomber. 

Five day mourning period begins for South Korean sailors.

China says it was an “unfortunate incident.”  But what role will it play

Meanwhile, the U.S. – in my view – should still be slowly extricating itself militarily from the peninsula, especially if incidents like this one threaten to get the US involved in fighting there that is not in our national interests narrowly-defined.   An editorial from the Korea Times related to this issue.  Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute in Forbes on the US and South Korea

And a couple of thoughts from our comments section:

I’ve been reading a bunch of English language Korean websites and a Korean friend has read some in Korean for me. They all have editorials that basically end: If it can conclusively be shown that NK was responsible a strong response (whatever that may be; they don’t ever say) is required. Anything less will harm the government badly.”

Andy Jackson’s important bleg: “One issue I’d like to see more discussion of is the frequency of NK undersea incursions below the Northern Limit Line.”

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Interesting post on this – plus pictures of the raised Cheonan.  HT: Information Dissemination.

What is interesting is that the ship was split in half! 

South Korea has now publicly announced that the Cheonan was likely hit by a torpedo: see this NY Times article.

As Rob has noted, “War is simply not in South Korea’s interests.”  So, I’d like to see some public opinion polling to see if the government will be pressured to take a more bellicose stance.  War of Jenkins’ Ear anyone (a case in which, according to some, public opinion pushed the government further than it may have wanted to go)?  I doubt it.

Update: Will the new rallying cry for the South Korean Navy be: “Remember the Cheonan”?

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In case you miss it in the comments, Rob Farley at LGM responds to my post and adds more thoughts on North Korea and the Cheonan Incident.

In case you are wondering, Rob is not one of my senior colleagues on my P and T committee.  He’s just an interesting guy, hence all the links!

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The UK Times suggests that the apparent North Korean attack on the South Korean naval ship on March 26 may have been an attempt to provoke war with South Korea.  Specifically:

In some ways, a limited war might be exactly what the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, is hoping for. After decades of economic decline and famine in the 1990s, which killed as many as a few million people, his economy is in chronic decline. A military adventure, against the routinely demonised “imperialist” US and its South Korean “lackeys” could serve as a welcome and unifying distraction.

This is what political scientists call a diversionary or scapegoat war.   Such a war enables a leader facing domestic troubles to provoke a rally around the flag effect and raise flagging (pun intended) support. 

Now assuming that the incident was the product of centralized decision making rather than an unintended one ordered lower down the food chain (something I discussed earlier here), Kim Jong Il may simply be engaging in a tit-for-tat retaliatory strike for an earlier skirmish, something the Times itself suggests.  And while such a diversionary war would likely distract at home and provide some temporary relief from any internal pressure, is the “Supreme Leader” really so risk acceptant as to start something that could spiral into a bigger war that could see his downfall?

My guess is that the incident was not intended to start a diversionary war but was either retaliation or another in a long history of provocative displays of force by the North Koreans.  Then again, Kim Jong Il may be assuming – perhaps correctly given South Korea’s current lack of desire for a major war on the peninsula – that any South Korean response is likely to be quite limited and can provide some helpful distraction.  Of course, this is all premised on the notion that we are talking about a substantively (or even procedurally) rational, unitary actor – something that might be a stretch in this case.

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I’m with Rob at LGM on this issue: if the North Koreans torpedoed South Korea’s Cheonan, doing nothing is not an ideal response.  As Rob notes:  “indicating that North Korea is allowed to sink South Korean ships in internationally recognized South Korean waters seems problematic.” 

However, if I’m remembering my Robert Jervis correctly, we should be careful about assuming that North Korea was acting as a rational, unitary actor (I think Jervis used the phrase centralized and coordinated) in this instance.  This is a classic type of misperception.  And Rob suggests this as well, writing:  “It’s simply not the case that the order to escalate MUST have come from Kim Jong Il, although it’s certainly POSSIBLE that it came from the top.”  Unfortunately, it is hard to know which it was – and doing nothing could certainly send the wrong signal north.  However, overreaction would also be a mistake.  Yet another reminder that having the responsibility of power is a heavy burden.

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