Thursday, May 20, 2010
The aftermath of the sinking of the South Korean vessel Cheonan in late March is getting more tense, following the the disclosure of the results of an international forensic examination of the wreckage, and a denial by North Korea.
Investigators from the five-nation team said detailed scientific analysis of the wreckage, as well as fragments recovered from the waters where the Cheonan went down, point to North Korean involvement.That North Korea would go the denial route, instead of retorting, "yup, we did it, you were in our waters, whatchagonnadoaboutit," is interesting in an of itself, but will serve to prolong the tension around the incident, as Seoul considers taking its claims to the U.N. Security Council. The Security Council does not have a recent history of responding decisively or to much effect in such matters.
Torpedo fragments found on the seabed "perfectly match" the schematics of a North Korean-made torpedo Pyongyang has tried to sell abroad, chief investigator Yoon Duk-yong said. A serial number on one piece is consistent with markings from a North Korean torpedo that Seoul obtained years earlier, he said.
"The evidence points overwhelmingly to the conclusion that the torpedo was fired by a North Korean submarine," he said. "There is no other plausible explanation."
Pak, the North Korean military official, dismissed it as faked evidence.
For more CSI-like details of the Cheonan sinking, the Christian Science Monitor has an excellent article.
I don't believe that this will devolve into a shooting war, because the outcome of such a conflict would be pretty bad for both sides, and South Korea isn't seriously considering that option. It will be added to the long list of similar incidents (of greater and lesser lethality) over the past five-plus decades, since the signing of the 1953 truce.
Exit question: Assuming that the U.S. Navy would keep at least one silent and deadly Ohio class SSBN near the peninsula, are U.S. interests served by continuing to have 28,500 ground troops in South Korea, or would the removal of those forces destabilize the situation?
Since it would please both the Chinese and the North Koreans if the US pulled out, I'd say ordinarily it wouldn't make any sense for the US to do so absent some significant concession on their part.
Ah but these are not ordinary times and they are our enemies. We should, therefore, apologize to them for making them not like us, pull out and periodically ask them if they would like anything else from us.
Escort, your exit question is a good one and something people talk about here on the peninsula often. Over the last 10 years, since there has been a draw-down from about 35,000 to 27,000 thousand troops, some higher-ups in the S. Korean command are getting a bit nervous and are becoming more vocal about US troops staying at current levels to keep the stabilization. That being said, despite their claims to a million man army, the North Korean army, even with nukes, would not stand a chance against a far more developed South Korean army (and don't think that Japan wouldn't help out if things got really ugly). And to be honest, I'm not so sure China would be willing to help out the North if it does get uglier. It seems like they have been trying to keep their distance these days, despite inviting Kim Jong Il over for dinner a few weeks back.
As an American, I've definitely noticed a decline in anti-Americanism (such as the FTA protest two years back)in the last year since Lee Myoung Bak has become president and N. Korea has been talking smack. I think most people here certainly don't like having another country's army stationed here, but they definitely prefer it to a darker alternative.
The one thing you say is that it is "interesting that North would go the denial route". Actually, everybody here expected that. It's what they do: Lie. Previous administrations have been so diplomatic to the point of being very naive...I'm kind of glad that the South has a hardliner like Lee in the Blue House right now.
I kind of agree that having that Ohio Class SSBN would almost be enough. The US is currently paying for over 60% of the bill for US troops to stay here and S. Korea's army is more than capable. While I think their (the U.S.'s army) purpose is obviously well-meaning, I also think it's time that S. Korea starts to take a bit more responsibility with their own defense spending.
If South Korea will not respond forcefully when North Korea sinks a South Korean warship in South Korean waters, then why does South Korea have a military at all? (A belated letter in French from the UN does not constitute a response, just in case that needed clearing up).
North Korea's act of war will clearly not be the end of provocations. There are two obvious paths forward:
1. South Korea submits to North Korean aggression. Danegeld or worse. US troops are given the bum's rush.
2. China "volunteers" to protect a unilaterally disarmed South Korea from North Korea. US troops are given the bum's rush.
Either way, looks like the all-powerful United Nations just lost the Korean War.
Kinuachdrach: Just because N. Korea sinks a S. Korean ship, does not mean the end of the world, cats and dogs living together, and the return of Disco. It means option 3. NK and SK continue playing Korean Army Tag behind the scenes, while waiting for NK to self-destruct. As the ugly game has been played for years.
SSBN: There is not a chance in hell that the US Navy would keep one of their godawful valuable Ballistic Missile Subs in the shallow brown water right off the Korean coast within reach of the occasional NK electric boat. Those things are most comfortable with a thousand feet of nice blue water over the keel, and could hit any target in NK with nuclear missiles while sitting quietly off the shore of San Diego. The Ohio is now a SSGN (not B), armed with 154 (!) conventional cruise missiles, going from a nuclear second strike role to a conventional first strike role, and would be very unlikely to be near the shore unless they were firing, and would steer clear of any underwater or surface targets.
Now that’s not to say a few SSN 688 boats may be plying their trade in the general area, perhaps just in the general vicinity of a SSGN, and perhaps might be forced into sinking a NK sub or two who wander into the wrong section of ocean…