Defense Minister Vows Retaliation for Cheonan Sinking

      May 03, 2010 12:42

      Defense Minister Kim Tae-yung on Sunday threatened North Korea with retaliation if it is found to have been behind the sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan on March 26. "Retaliation -- whatever form it takes -- must be done," Kim said on KBS TV. The possibility of a vicious cycle of retaliation "must clearly be considered," he said.

      The minister was echoing Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Kim Sung-chan's pledge during Thursday's funeral for the 46 sailors killed in the shipwreck that whoever caused the tragedy would not be forgiven and get away.

      "We must investigate the exact cause of the shipwreck to the last. And I think those responsible for killing our soldiers must pay the price," Kim said.

      Former U.S. Forces Korea commander Burwell Bell, meanwhile, called for strict blockade measures if North Korean involvement in the sinking of the Cheonan is proved.

      Government and military sources say that retaliation could take the form of a show of strength but not necessarily actual military force. If it does take the form of military force, this could mean the precision bombing of one of the submarines or mini-subs presumed to have attacked the Cheonan with a torpedo, or of their base.

      South Korean and U.S. authorities, based on U.S. reconnaissance satellite photos and communication intercepts, are reportedly attempting to confirm the routes taken by North Korean subs presumed to have attacked the corvette, but the chances that they will bomb one or more of them are slim for fear of escalation.

      A blockade of a submarine base or other part of the North Korean coast could also be considered. When the Cuban Missile Crisis erupted in October 1962, the U.S. blockaded Cuba by sea, which forced a Soviet fleet heading to Cuba to turn back, ending the crisis in 11 days. For the formula to be effective, however, cooperation with the U.S. Navy and intelligence agencies is essential. It is unclear if Washington would be open to the proposal.

      The Korean armed forces alone or in cooperation with the U.S. military could stage large maritime exercises where they fire antisubmarine bombs, submarine-attacking light torpedoes and loaded shells near the de facto marine border with the North. U.S. F-15 fighters and P-3C maritime patrol aircraft could be mobilized in the maneuver.

      Dispatching U.S. Air Force B-2 stealth bombers or B-52 bombers to the skies over the Korean Peninsula is also an option.

      Asked by lawmaker Kim Jung of the Pro-Park Geun-hye Coalition at the National Assembly Defense Committee session last Wednesday whether deploying nuclear bombers alone could send a sufficiently strong message to the North, the minister replied, "I think it would be good show of force." 

      Military authorities are reportedly considering a number of other options such as suspending passage of North Korean vessels through the Jeju Strait, which has been permitted since 2005, and resuming psychological warfare by re-installing the electronic bulletin boards and loudspeakers broadcasting toward the North along the demilitarized zone, which were removed during the Roh Moo-hyun administration.

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