Thursday, May 27, 2010

A line in the sea...

Two months ago, as the Cheonan – a South Korean naval corvette – cruised through the international waters of the Yellow Sea; a North Korean submarine fired a torpedo at the Cheonan. The device struck the South Korean vessel amidships, tearing it in two. The ship quickly sank and 46 sailors of the Republic of Korea lost their lives in the unprovoked attack.

Now, after a thorough investigation by international teams, the proof is there for the world to see: divers recovered pieces of the easily identifiable North Korean weapon and the evidence has been presented to the world. Despite having known from the get-go that their brothers to the north had attacked their nation, South Korea held judgment until all the corroboration was in.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s response to South Korea’s revelations was to – predictably – call its neighbor nation and those involved in the investigation “liars.” Also quite predictably, Pyongyang ratcheted-up tensions by putting its military on high-alert, conducting maneuvers and cranking-up its propaganda machine (spewing threats of all-out war against South Korea and its allies). For its part, “South Korea banned trade with its neighbor, said it would take the sinking to the UN Security Council and announced a resumption of propaganda broadcasts from loudspeakers at the inter—Korean border.”

In addition, various trip-wire safeguards (which no one really ever believed the North would adhere to) have been scrapped by the communist nation. As the Voice of America and others are reporting, “In a sharp escalation of tensions with South Korea, North Korea says it is discarding military procedures the two sides have agreed to follow for years to ensure a conflict does not get out of hand.”

The remains of the South Korean corvette...

Also worth noting is South Korea and the U.S. revealing that four North Korean submarines – the kind the DPRK typically uses for inserting special forces troops or saboteurs into the South – were detected leaving their bases. (As worrying as this is, it is a clear message from the allies to North Korea that “we know where you are and what you’re doing.”) In response to the attack, the sub launches and the North’s announcement it would no longer allow safe passage through neighboring waters, “South Korea's navy conducted anti-submarine warfare drills off its west coast. South Korea and the United States have announced they will conduct a joint anti-submarine exercise, widely expected to take place within a matter of weeks.”

As the UN Security Council prepares to cogitate on the situation, North Korea’s patron – China – is said to be working behind the scenes to protect its puppet in Pyongyang, perhaps even offering the U.S. a deal that would finally bring sanctions against Iran for its nuclear program in exchange for softer treatment of the thugs of North Korea. This, however, will not go over well in Seoul. It will not sit well with a nation that has endured 60 years of attacks, terrorism, extortion and all forms of criminality. And it will not sit well with the families of the 46 sailors massacred on March 26 in the Yellow Sea.

South Korea, which has gone out of its way for decades to seek a peaceful reunification of North and South Korea, has always viewed its northern neighbors not as an “enemy” but, instead, as a “brother.” With the sinking of the Cheonan, however, that has all changed. As the BBC reported, “Thousands of protesters have gathered in Seoul to denounce North Korea's threats against the South, amid heightened tensions between the two countries.” South Korea’s leader, Lee Myung-bak (a solid, no-nonsense head of state with a backbone), has promised to take stern action against the North Korea.

North Korea has a history of inflicting violence on South Korea and then threatening worse when the light of day shined on their misdeeds. Once again, now that the world knows what Kim Jong Il’s regime has done, the Hermit Kingdom’s mad leader is trying to bully his way through the fallout. As noted, it doesn’t look like the South will stand idly by and let their sailors’ deaths pass as mere “incidents.”

The South is not going to back down and North Korea, which only has its willingness to commit violence to stand on when it comes to any form of credibility, is going to believe its hand is being forced.

These are dangerous times on the peninsula – perhaps worse than any since the Korean War itself. The difference this time is that the stakes are much, much higher. Let’s face it: North Korea, a nation ruled by a megalomaniac, possesses nuclear weapons and has threatened to use them – this should not be taken lightly. In addition to the human toll a renewed conflict would take, much of the world’s economy depends on that part of Asia: South Korea, Japan, and China. An all-out war would likely create devastation/havoc and throw the world into a vortex previously unseen.

The madman of the North...

Back on March 26, when North Korea sank the Cheonan, it drew a line in the sea. The question is who will step over it, first?

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