Sinking of the RoKS Cheonan
Back on 26 March 2010 Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK) Special Forces Unit possibly on the direct orders of Kim Jong Il sank the RoKs Cheonan with a loss of forty-six lives while it was on patrol near the Korean border in the eastern sea. They used a small submersible to launch a torpedo designed to detonate in near proximity to the patrol vessel breaking it with the immense underwater pressure wave. The attack, obvious yet designed deniable, seems intended to increase the general level of tension and uncertainty, and as revenge for a previous naval engagement last November. To put more dispute in the disputed sea border between the two Koreas. DPRK has nuclear weapons. The US has a treaty with the Republic of Korea (South Korea). China is protective of DPRK and links other diplomatic decisions to intricacies of its DPRK relationship.
For many observers, though not all, this incident was simply out of bounds. A disruption of business as usual. Requiring a positive counter balance before routine can return, even what passed for routine with North Korea Rising Tensions on the Korean Peninsula | The Diane Rehm Show from WAMU and NPR. Like seedlings, and shoots return slowly to a burnt forest. It could constitute and be regarded an act of war were these two nations not already at war. It is part of a long standing pattern of provocation on the part of the North Koreans BBC News - US vows punishment for North Korea over ship sinking which has no counterpart in historic RoK or U S policy or behavior on the peninsular.
Broad policy as always has its feet in operational details. How did a military a logarithmic leap in modernization and funding over its rival lose a ship to them and find themselves casting about for a next move ROKS Cheonan sinking - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. The Roks Cheonan is a corvette, a small class of ship the US Navy traditionally hasn't operated. It is a third smaller and one quarter the weight of our Oliver Hazard Perry class frigate. It was still large for the way it was being used. Several of the islands on South Korea's side of the meandering border north of Inchon lie directly off the North Korean coast. After the November 2009 incident which left one one North Korean vessel damaged and burning a decision was made to have ships circumnavigate these island on their routine patrols. The draft of the Pohang class corvettes, nearly 10 feet, meant that the route they took around Baengnyeong Island to avoid crossing into agreed North Korean waters was highly predictable. The DPRK was able to exploit this for a clandestine attack South Korea says probe points to North in sinking of ship; Pyongyang denies involvement.
The Sui Generis of DPRK foreign policy is that there is no real attempt to run a nation or govern a people. It is Rule by Extortion : Food Fuel cash. To service a close elite, buy off a lesser elite. It is not an intricate nuanced FP requiring highly trained and experienced diplomats. It is one simple but robust. cause fear and uncertainty, hold out a promise of what others want, certainty and normalization. Only stall, never change, react to everything BBC News - North Korea 'severs all ties' with Seoul. Ancillary to this: Make [your own] weapons leave it to others to make the food, and feed your people. Make a nationalistic claim that your way represents the true nature of your race and culture. So that others don't see poverty and lack of development, but rather the old heartland ways of their grandparents and ancestors.
As unprofitable as it might seem premised on the belief that there is a low rationality to what North Korea does; there would be reasons for this act. Beyond simple retaliation for the earlier incident, reasons why retaliation now would serve. There are DPRK succession issues? Initiating a crisis to show the DPRK elite that the Kim IL Sung family is still capable of initiating crises and extracting value from them. Something that would convince the conservative elements in the party and army to allow the country to degenerate into the little hereditary chieftaincy it is becoming. Kim Jung Il's son is likely to be portrayed as being personally involved in this, if it works out well.
Another possibility and distinct problem for the west. This is a demonstration to RoK and the US that with a nuclear weapon in hand the DPRK is willing to step up its provocation, launch more violent and deadly attacks on higher profile targets? Secure in the knowledge that the west can attempt no real response. These provocations need no particular end,of course. For the DPRK and Kim IL Sung they exist to create the right milieu, of sudden conflagration, destruction of trade and wealth. A yanking out of the stay-blocks of peace BBC News - North Korea scraps South Korea military safeguard pact.
Findlandization is a term referring to the gradual subjugation of a nation. Establishment of strains of dominance and subordination through the threat of overwhelming coercive force, or repeated use or threat of violence. Here it is manifested not only in the willingness to see dangerous North Korea as an old problem belonging to a previous era or generation. A cognitive dissonance -- a willingness to look at such incidents as the Attack on the RoKs Cheonan as holding little meaning. As though this had been just a bumping together of two boats and a fist fight, Rather than the sinking of a ship, and murder of sailors. A willingness (inside and out side of ROK) to turn this on its head and see this as the defensible outcome of provocations by the current less openhanded ROK government or even a deliberate sacrifice of men and material by a conspiracy of the ROK and U S governments. The latter caustically absurdly and shamefully cynical. The desire not to unduly provoke the North led the South not to officially proclaim until 20 May 2010 after a careful and international investigation what had been starkly obvious from the first South Korea to officially blame North Korea for March torpedo attack on warship. That the ship had been the victim of a hostile attack. I said to a co-worker the day it happened that in my experience in the Navy, normally with ships the back-end doesn't just fall off. Not without being helped anyway. He observed after a moment of thought that sometimes the Front Falls Off *, but that's another story.
A military reaction or confrontation with North Korea by U S is not what is needed; although from the usual dark corners of American Opinion only that will be urged BBC News - US vows punishment for North Korea over ship sinking. A degree of military co-operation from the U S is needed. Involving some material assistance but mostly procedural training and practice U.S. to Aid South Korea With Naval Defense Plan - NYTimes.com. Locating fiberglass hulled snorkeling submersibles quickly in shallow littoral waters remains a technological nut to be cracked. But it should be possible to greatly reduce the likelihood of losing a major warship with means currently available. This is to be sure a Korean Matter but one of considerable US interest US weighs response to SKorean ship sinking - Yahoo! News. An unresolved destabilizing issue that could affect the economies of three major trading partners two of which are key allies. A measured response is wanted. Aiming for a limiting of DPRK diplomatic freedom of movement. It is suspected that the DPRK would like to discard the six party framework Six-party talks - Wikipedia for more direct and more profitable talks with just South Korea and the US. The work of this incident ought to be that more firmly will the six party talks and regional consensus be the apparatus for dealing with North Korea and more centrally will their disengagement from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty be in any discussion. China is key to these efforts to the most satisfactory outcomes. At the same time China's interests do not obviate South Korea's security concerns.
Looking over the Wikipedia page on this a second time I see a section added on a "leaked" Chinese report. Speaking of the impossibility of DPRK initiating such attack due to low material competence etc, Advanced U S /RoK listening posts on these islands, the US RoK naval exercise that were underway at the time (confirmed AP Enterprise: Sub attack was near US-SKorea drill - Yahoo! News only after this report hit the streets). Speaking to what had been only dark rumors that this was a sacrifice play of Koreans to save US influence in region. Much as this is more likely to have been written by a propaganda unit than by Chinese naval intelligence it is an indication of how the Chinese are parsing the situation. Additionally polls showing at least 1/4 of South Koreans inclined to believe this rather than that the North did it. Elections results show that RoK president Lee Myung-bak's party heading for significant defeats in regional elections BBC News - Setback for South Korea's president in local elections. An indication that he does not have support to challenge North Korea on this S. Korea's Governing Party Surprised by Election - NYTimes.com. Losing a ship is a significant military defeat in itself, losing the PR campaign after losing a ship is an existential threat for South Korea.
* Aus. humour notes: I had never heard of John Clarke and Bryan Dawe until my co-worker, Jeremy, referenced this piece in March. I intended to work it into to this post from the start. The sketch dates back to 1992 I think so I was quite surprised to see it turn up in a MetaFilter FPP now The Front Fell Off | MetaFilter. It's a strange and coincidental world out there, enjoy.
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