Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Mother of All Cold War Hangovers

So, it's official. After much speculation, North Korea has officially been fingered for the Cheonan attack, possibly the worst of Pyongyang's many peacetime provocations against South Korea since 1953.

According to the explanation given in this morning's press conference, a Yeoneo Class midget (meaning weighing 300T or less) submarine left a port on the west coast of North Korea on the night of March 26th, skirted through international waters to avoid detection, came in from the west towards the Cheonan, which was to the west of Baekryeong Island at the time, and deliberately torpedoed it.

The torpedo exploded 69m below the portside of the vessel, creating a so-called "bubble jet" which impacted the hull of the vessel, scything it in two. Torpedo parts were scattered far and wide, of course, but a pair of intact propellers and a drive shaft were left on the ocean floor surprisingly close to the site of the explosion.

One and a half months later, a dredger employing extremely high tensile netting dragged up that torpedo propeller and drive shaft, the latter of which had the ill-fated numerical, "1번" written on it.

It was perhaps unnecessary for an investigating official to announce in today's press conference, "We have confirmed that no other nation besides North Korea marks its torpedoes in Korean."

We know the torpedo didn't impact with the hull of the ship itself for these reasons, and we know that this particular torpedo sank this particular ship for these reasons.

Not everyone in South Korea believes it, of course. We know that North Korea is denying it, and apparently thinks that the best form of defense is attack.

The inevitable but unusually swiftly released statement from the Korean Central News Agency is not interesting for what it says, which is, among other things;

“In the event of any punishment, retaliatory action or any kind of sanction which damages our national interests, we will answer with hard-line measures including immediate war. This total war will be a sacred war of the nation, people and state to get rid of the base of followers of the rebel factions which created this fabrication and to build a unified great state.

Any trifling incidents in the waters, air or land of our sovereign territory including in the West Sea will be considered the actions of confrontation fanatics and we will cope with that with merciless physical blows and infinite retaliation.”

What is interesting, however, is that the statement was released by the National Defense Commission, to all intents and purposes the top administrative body in North Korea, and one of which Kim Jong Il is the chair. For this reason, the statement can be interpreted as being the word of Kim himself.

The second interesting thing about it is that it is more direct than most statements which emerge from North Korea, with few attempts at qualification.

These facts are designed to instill a measure of fear in South Korean people, obviously, and turn them off the rule of the conservative Lee Myung Bak administration, which some people think is to blame for creating conditions in which North Korea thought it might be a good idea to slaughter 46 conscript soldiers in cold blood.

And it is also designed to change the political landscape of the June 2nd local elections. Let us be clear, it certainly will do that, but whether it will be in the direction that North Korea wants is altogether more debatable.

Either way, as Baek Hak Soon of the Sejong Institute told Yonhap;

The South Korean announcement on Thursday marks "a moment when inter-Korean relations have essentially ended. They will remain that way unless a fundamental political change takes place in either Seoul or Pyongyang."

Yet another day to remember in the last moments of the mother of all Cold War hangovers.

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