The Nation Has the Right to Defend Itself

      May 21, 2010 13:06

      President Lee Myung-bak on Thursday vowed to take decisive steps against North Korea. "It was clearly revealed through the international investigation team's scientific and objective investigation that the Cheonan sinking was a military provocation by North Korea," Lee was quoted as saying. Lee said he will "take resolute countermeasures against North Korea and make it admit its wrongdoings through strong international cooperation and return to the international community as a responsible member."

      The UN Charter bans any armed threat or use of armed force against another country. In 1974, the UN General Assembly established a regulation that any attack by the armed forces of one country against the army, navy, air force or marine or air fleets of another country "shall qualify as an act of aggression" regardless of a declaration of war. North Korea's attack on the Cheonan falls in this category. Article 51 of the UN Charter provides for "the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs." That means South Korea has the right under international law to defend itself.

      While behaving like a madman, North Korea has begun its schemes to divide the South Korean public. North Korea's National Defense Commission, its top policy-making body, in a statement on Thursday said the findings in an international investigation into the sinking of the Cheonan are "fabrications" and promised to deliver a "merciless" blow if the South takes retaliatory action including sanctions. North Korea offered to dispatch a delegation of investigators to Seoul to verify the international findings.

      The international community is starting to expand the interpretation of the conditions that warrant a country's right to self defense, which require "exigent circumstances." A month after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, U.S. invaded Afghanistan citing its right to "self defense." The investigation of the sinking of the Cheonan and the discovery of the smoking gun linking the attack to North Korea were achieved in the shortest possible time. Now is therefore the best moment for Seoul to establish its right to defend itself under international law. North Korea's threat of "all-out war" offers even more reason for the South to declare that right.

      But declaring the right to self defense and actually retaliating by force are two different matters. South Korea's pursuit of sanctions against North Korea through the UN and through other means will clearly demonstrate to the international community that these measures are the South's way of defending itself and will make it clear to the North that any further provocations will be met with an immediate response.

      North Korea committed numerous provocations in the past, but it has never paid the price. That must change now. Seoul must exercise its right to self defense and pursue firm and concrete steps to hold North Korea responsible for its actions. It needs to determine which steps it must take on its own, which in conjunction with the U.S., and which with the UN and the international community so that North Korea realizes once and for all that things are different now.

      One step worth considering is to deploy the U.S. Seventh Fleet to waters off of the Korean Peninsula and to conduct joint South Korea-U.S. military drills soon to reduce security concerns both home and abroad and to deter North Korea from making another fatal misjudgment.

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