Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Jung Seung-jo signed a joint contingency plan on Friday with the U.S. to respond to North Korean provocations. Since North Korea sank the Navy corvette Cheonan and shelled Yeonpyeong Island in 2010, Seoul and Washington have been discussing what coordinated response they could implement in the event of another North Korean attack.
They did not reveal details, but the response apparently includes South Korean forces handling the initial strike at the source of the provocation, followed by Seoul and Washington undertaking concerted steps in the second and third stages. Until now, the U.S. military was solely responsible for deciding on American military intervention in the event of a North Korean provocation, but from now on, the South Korean military will handle the initial response while the U.S. Seventh Fleet, including the aircraft carrier USS George Washington, will be mobilized along with Japanese F-22 fighter jets followed by the deployment of U.S. Marines to handle joint missions.
Last Friday, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visited a special forces unit and ordered his elite soldiers to "strike at the heart of the enemy." North Korea could launch a provocation when the South least expects it. Until North Korea sank the Cheonan in March of 2010, nobody even imagined the North's submarines would target one of South Korea's warships, and until it shelled Yeonpyong Island later that year, no one forecast that Pyongyang would lob artillery rounds at South Korean citizens.
The fact that Seoul and Washington came up with the joint contingency plan 60 years after the armistice that halted the 1950-53 Korean War demonstrates just how naive they have been in assessing the North Korean threat.
Tuesday marks the third anniversary of the sinking of the Cheonan. Until now, our military has warned it would strike not only the source of North Korean provocations, but also supporting forces. The U.S. was apparently more worried about a South Korean response escalating into a full-fledged war. But the most effective way to stop North Korean provocations is a strong response.
A muddled, ineffectual response like the one to the sinking of the Cheonan is unacceptable. The latest joint plan must be strong enough to make North Korea think twice about launching any provocation, and envisage striking fiercely if it does. That is the only way the 46 sailors who died aboard the Cheonan can rest in peace.