Seoul Shouldn't Rule Out Military Action Against N.Korea
President Lee Myung-bak in a special address to the nation on Monday pledged to take firm steps against those responsible for the sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan. "As the president, I will ascertain the cause of the Cheonan's sinking to the last detail," he said. "I will deal resolutely with the results and make sure such a disaster does not recur."
Lee declared that whoever was behind the sinking will pay the price. He is said to have met with diplomatic and national security advisers on Monday to discuss the next steps the country should take.
The focus of attention has shifted to South Korea's response as the investigation into the sinking has led to the tentative conclusion that an external blast was the most probable cause. Former Defense Minister Kim Jang-soo in an interview with the Chosun Ilbo on Saturday said the South "should consider military action" including a blockade or a direct blow if North Korea is found to have been behind the attack.
He said the reason why North Korea continues to provoke the South is that Seoul has consistently failed to respond to terrorist attacks. More and more people here are saying that those responsible for the sinking of the Cheonan should be made to pay an equal price in order to deter others. Sometimes the best deterrent against war is a firm will to be ready for anything, even war.
If the Cheonan sank due to an attack by a torpedo or a mine, it was an act of war under international law and under Article 51 of the UN Charter, South Korea has the "right to defend itself through both individual and collective means." In the past, the only justification for military self-defense was a real and imminent threat of invasion by an enemy state. But in recent years, a country's right to take military steps no long requires a threat to be "imminent."
When a North Korean assassination squad got within a few hundred meters of the presidential compound back in 1968 and killed seven South Koreans; when 17 of the South's government officials, including the vice premier and state ministers, were killed in a North Korean bombing in Rangoon in 1983; or when 115 people died in North Korea's bombing of a KAL passenger jet in 1987, the South's response went no further than UN sanctions and a strongly worded protest.
In September 1996, 26 North Korean commandos infiltrated South Korea's northeastern coast via submarine and 17 South Korean soldiers were killed in the ensuing gunfight. Four months later, the U.S. and North Korea held marathon talks with Washington which finally led to Pyongyang issuing a statement expressing "deep regret" over the incident. But the U.S. had to give the North 500,000 tons of rice as a reward. These precedents have prompted North Korea to keep provoking the South without fear of military reprisals.
A 2 million-strong North Korean army is armed to the teeth and ready to invade the South and the North's artillery and missiles are trained at targets south of the border. North Korea is aware that South Korea would suffer massive casualties and face an exodus of valuable foreign investment if it takes military measures. It is shamelessly taking advantage of this reticence.
There is no doubt that South Korea would suffer huge losses if it clashes militarily with North Korea. But another thing is also clear: a military confrontation with South Korea would spell the end of the North Korean regime. Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan said on Sunday, "If the sinking of the Cheonan turns out to be the work of North Korea, we can first consider UN sanctions." But North Korea has been unimpressed by UN sanctions over its nuclear tests. If Seoul really wants to deal with North Korea, it should not narrow the options at its disposal, but pressure the North with all of the choices it has, including military measures. That is the only way to guarantee the effectiveness of diplomatic solutions.