Monday, April 19, 2010

Ask a Korean! News: Mr. Joo Seong-Ha on ROKS Cheon-An Sinking

First, a bit of a background. On March 26, ROKS Cheon-An, a patrol ship of the Republic of Korea Navy, sank when an explosion caused by an unidentified source split the ship in two. Thirty-eight seamen were killed, most of them stuck in the rear section of the ship that sank first. Eight more are missing and presumed dead. There has been much speculation as to the cause of the sinking up to this point. The investigative committee recently is nearly set on the conclusion that the ship was attacked by a torpedo.

The natural question is -- did North Korea attack the ship? If it did, how should South Korea respond? Mr. Joo Seong-Ha of Nambuk Story gave his opinion. The Koreans' translation is below.

Bombing North Korean Submarine Base Is Not A Retaliation

It appears that the sinking of the ship Cheon-An was likely committed by North Korea. The ship was almost certainly attacked by a torpedo; other than North Korea, there is no country that would come to the sea near Baeknyeong-do Island to fire torpedoes. [TK: northernmost point of South Korea.]

At this point, we need the answer to the question: What do we do if it is indeed North Korea's doing?

Some conservative organizations are already protesting and shouting out for retaliatory attack on North Korea's submarine bases. But such response is incorrect. While the purpose of the leftists who endeavored to distract the suspicion set on North Korea with all kinds of conspiracy theories and the purpose of the rightists who want to attack the submarine base may be different, they are the same to the extent that they are actually helping North Korea.

Personally, after the Cheon-An sank I suspected North Korea, particularly Kim Jong-Un. Having studied artillery maneuvers, he is nearly maniacally obsessed with the artillery accuracy. He also bought from China expensive equipments and materials in order to have outdoor fireworks. For some reason, this snot-nosed kid loves firing something. He is also responsible for the artillery fire in the West Sea [TK: Yellow Sea] earlier this year. Therefore, it is entirely possible for him to plan a secret attack with the help of a few generals, who sensed the power shift and tried to get in line in a hurry.

He may have reported to his father, but it is also entirely possible for him to act alone. Recall that when Kim Jong-Il himself was younger, he led the charge on Aung San terrorist attack or the KAL airplane bombing.

Some experts question what North Korea could strategically gain from such reckless act, but I believe that there is plenty to be gained. I will explain this further below. Most importantly, one must consider that North Korea is a society in which it is hard to say no when the kid gives his order. It is much better to follow orders than losing your head for insubordination.

The investigation is well under way, and I understand they discovered pieces of the projectile. While the result of the investigation will be revealed soon, I daresay at this point that it will not be easy to trace the pieces to North Korea. North Korea is not stupid. It must have envisioned a limited-scale battle for the worst case scenario, although it would have bet stronger that South Korea will not be able to retaliate. North Korea is not stupid enough to use a torpedo that had a tag, "Made in DPRK". If it were me, I would have imported an American torpedo and fired that.

People also question where the North Korean submarines were on the day of the incident, but I do not think North Korea would have used a submarine, which is constantly monitored by the United States. North Korea must have carried out this bold attack because it was confident that the attack will not be detected. I believe the likely source of such confidence is a new weapon or a method yet unknown to us. In other words, North Korea's method of attack may not be clarified based on what we already know about surprise attacks and about North Korea. Even if North Korea attacked with a traditional submarine, it would have created its own specific corridor through which, at certain time, place and manner, the submarine would not be detected by South Korean navy.

If we do succeed in finding that North Korea attacked, what should we do?

First of all, sitting tight and doing nothing turn us into idiots. It will boost the spirit of North Korean army; it would think, "Look! They cannot even make peep!" It is particularly dangerous to boost the morale of Kim Jong-Un, because one can never know what the kid drunk with success might do.

South Korean government will not be sitting tight at any rate. It is likely that it will begin an internationally coordinated sanctions, but the problem is that sanctions are not much of a danger for North Korea. North Korea has been living with sanctions so far. Also, it is possible that North Korea will become even more reckless with sanctions.

In particular, the submarine base attacks that the conservative groups advocate must not happen. The same with any other military base strike. That is a thought based on ignorance about North Korea. Kim Jong-Il or Kim Jong-Un absolutely does not care if the submarine base is attacked, or an entire battalion is annihilated. They are the same people who continued to squeeze even though millions of their people died from starvation.

In fact, they will love it if North Korea should be attacked, as it is very helpful to the regime. Right now, the public opinion in North Korea is at its worst due to the failed policy of currency reform. There is no better way to solidify the shaky internal opinions than creating a strong enemy externally. Hitting a submarine base will cause North Korea to unite as one. Even the most complaint-filled North Korean will surely cheer for the North Korean army when they witness a submarine base disappear. Unless we are ready to engage in a full-scale war and occupy Pyongyang, we must abandon the idea of a piddly attack on a submarine base.

From North Korea's perspective, they win if the incident is not traced back to them, and they do not lose much even if it is. From my own experience of living in North Korea, creating an external threat most certainly helps maintaining the system. If it becomes clear that North Korea is responsible, it reflects how little North Korea thinks of South Korea. In fact, the South Korean administrations so far have done countless acts that sufficiently enabled North Korea to think that way.

If this is North Korea's doing, we must retaliate. If we are to retaliate, we must strike where it hurts. If we do not have the mental fortitude to do so, we should not even start.

There is only one place at which North Korea hurts: the safety of Kim Jong-Il's family and confidants and by extension the maintenance of the authoritarian system. That is the only place. Any retaliation that does not point to this place is no retaliation at all. There is no way to extract a surrender from Kim Jong-Il other than making him bet his own life.

If this is North Korea's doing, I would announce that the price for the Cheon-An will be taken from no one other than Kim Jong-Il personally, and that Kim Jong-Il and his cronies should be ready to pay with their lives. Then, no matter what the cost, we need about three stealth bombers sitting at the airfield. If we cannot buy them, we must rent them from America. If America will not give them to us, we must get it from France or Russia. And we must make Kim Jong-Il afraid that no matter when, no matter where, he may personally be bombed. We must recall that Kim Jong-Il was always extremely sensitive whenever a U.S. stealth bomber visited South Korea.

Then I would announce that all pre-existing agreements between North and South Korea are canceled, and resume the propaganda battle through loudspeaker broadcasting at the DMZ. We must also resume the reconnaissance battle along the North Korea-China border. In this battle, North Korea cannot help but be at a disadvantage with their border stretching several thousand kilometers. Furthermore, South Korea has the money to pay for it. If North Korea engages in guerrilla attacks, South Korea must attack with its economy. For example, South Korea can cover North Korea's skies with government-made propaganda fliers using balloons.

It is not as if North Korea can begin a full-scale war. Kim Jong-Il knows full well that the day a full-scale war begins will be his funeral day. We must also demonstrate that we are ready for a full-scale war. Once Kim Jong-Il is eliminated, there will be no North Korean general stupid enough to challenge South Korea and the USFK to avenge for Kim Jong-Il. That is the limitation and the weakness of a one-man dictatorship.

But we cannot simply push North Korea to the brink without any compromise. We must leave just enough room for them to surrender, and must accept it when they come out with the white flag. That comports with South Korea's national interest.

What amount of surrender is appropriate? Perhaps the promise to maintain peace and the actual action that demonstrates that resolve? I think one possibility could be for the North and the South to mutually move the military forces -- including North Korea's long-range artillery -- about half the distance away from the Armistice Line. If the military is moved away from the Armistice Line, it is a win for South Korea whose capital is nearer to the line.

The problem is that the methods of retaliation listed above is only possible after it can be clearly proven without any shade of doubt that North Korea is responsible for the sinking of the Cheon-An. But at this point, I believe proving that will be significantly difficult. Whether or not to retaliate is the heavy burden that the Blue House must carry.

What a shame that the soldiers died. When the precious youths were discovered on the Cheon-An as cold bodies and their pictures appeared on the front pages the next day, when their stories were recounted, there would have been few who did not experience sorrow and pain in their hearts.

I wish to add just one thing to conclude. If you have experienced such sorrow and pain, please at this point think about the feelings of the defectors who lived their lives deceived and lost their parents, brothers, families. Yesterday, they again sent the rudimentary fliers filled in cheap plastic sack with helium toward North Korea. It may be the best available revenge that the defectors, living under surveillance and control in South Korea, can extract from Kim Jong-Il.

I am not asking for help. It is enough to stop the vulgar cursing and understand their hearts. Would you listlessly sit and watch when a man who killed your family arrogantly lives on in a place not too far? You too are a human with blood coursing through your body.

[TK: Many defector organizations are engaging in a propaganda campaign toward North Korea using balloons filled with dollar bills, food and literature. There are some South Koreans who criticize this tactic, because they believe it unnecessarily raises tension with North Korea.]

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

17 comments:

  1. Is there a reason you choose to use TK rather than TN?

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  2. Usually I like these translated posts you provide. Today, I don't know... this guy just feels a bit too extreme for me today... Maybe I'm just too complacent...

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  3. I really enjoyed this post - probably because it proposes action without mass destruction. Very 'eye for an eye'.

    The biggest question, if it's North Korea, is 'what level of evidence will they require before proceeding?' Please God / Goddess, let Korea have more evidence than Bush had when Saddam had WMD...

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  4. So wait, if it does turn out be NK doesn't that basically mean that it's an act of war, and then the US has to help SK retaliate by the rules of the treaty we have together?

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  7. i will pray that korea can be united oneday just like germany.
    though i fear it won't happen as peaceful as it did here :/

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  8. The original article writer seems a bit extreme tbh. In that it regularly asserts we can do this we can do that.

    They can't as China will back North Korea to the Hilt, and even without war may simply not buy Korean Exports which will 'torpedo' the S Korean economy.

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  9. TK,

    Very good translation. My thoughts go out to those families affected by this horrific tragedy.

    I dont think South Korea can do anything given that the stakes are too high for South Korea. In other words, South Korea cannot ill afford to invade nor retaliate against North Korea, even with enough evidence suggesting that the North Korea was behind the attack, given the negative consequences it will have on the Korean peninsula. Furthermore, such invasion will destabilize the Korean peninsula as well as the entire North East Asian region. As such, such event should be avoided at all cost. The only solution that I can see is through peaceful reconciliation by both countries, mutual economic and political exchanges and, most importantly, North Korea’s establishment of a sound economic platform, and, thereby, albeit slowly, allowing people of North Korea to see from their own eyes the very cruelty of Kim’s regime on its own people. In doing so it will eliminate mass casualties on both sides, protect the economic interests of South Korea, and preserve peace on the Korean and greater Asian peninsula.

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  10. Not retaliating runs the risk of further attack. Retaliating plays into the hands of the propaganda machine.
    Closing the Kaesung plant is the best option. That way KJI cannot use it as a bargaining chip later, which he is bound to do. Also, step up international pressure on China, which is the only country that can make NK listen.

    Stealth bombing is not the answer. We must remember that KJI promotes absolutely fanatical generals to the upper eschelons of the armed forces. A lifetime of brainwashing is not to be trifled with.

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  11. Thank you for the translation!

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  12. theseoulsearcher: well, obviously it's an act of war.

    But the US and South Korea have never needed an excuse to go to war because North Korea keeps on providing them - this, the ax murders, and so on. They don't lack for _casus belli_; it's just that a war seems like a bad idea and small North Korean provocations like this don't change the cost-benefit calculations.

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  13. What can Korea do? Nothing! The US is already involved in two wars, and the country's current president is willing to let Israel down over a few houses in Jerusalem. Does anybody honestly believe, Obama will support any kind of actions, of whatever nature, against a rogue state that possesses nuclear bombs and has Red China's support?

    NK and its criminally insane leadership will go on, and on, and on.

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  14. Joel, what would TN stand for?

    Lee Farrand, it is a mistake to assume that North Koreans -- at any level, low or high -- are brainwashed fanatics. They are rational people who respond to rational incentives, like preservation of their own lives.

    gwern, that's a good observation. Also recall that SK did pretty much nothing after the KAL 858 bombing.

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  15. I was wondering how about a non lethal show of military force?

    Essentially something like fast jet raids, but drop only books (encyclopaedias?) and food.

    The jets would scare the life out of the North Korean population who would realise that the South has the power to do what it likes militarily and the DPRK armed forces are no match. While at the same time providing food and education would be a massive threat to the regime, showing there is a bigger, more powerful, benevolent country trying to help them. A groundswell of dissent is surely an excellent form of retaliation.

    This does rather depend on the feasibility of the raid and the NK air defences being sufficiently porous in places. But from what I understand of NK I'd be surprised if the technology and armanent to take down a fast jet remains functional throughout the country.

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  17. An interesting post, thanks. Although the optimism I began reading with soon faded.

    You claim that North Koreans would react rationally in the event of an external threat on the establishment, yet I would suggest that is the last thing they would do.

    As an example, in South Korea, when issues are framed as nationalist, you can guarantee the response will be far from rational, fuelled by intense nationalism and defence mechanisms. One of the most distinctive aspects of Koreans is their intense nationalism. It can be endearing, too. When there is an external threat, people rally round and fight the cause, like no others.

    In North Korea, which shares a history and a psyche, this has been compounded by 60 years of the most extreme nationalist brainwashing. As aforesaid, those controlling the military are the most trusted and loyal.

    I would concur with an earlier poster and suggest that any attempt on KJI's life will guarantee a fight to the death by the brainwashed generals. Many would prefer death than to live under perceived-foreign control. This is true for many countries when they are attacked by foreigners, but North Korea is the most extreme case of state-sanctioned brainwashing on the planet. This is in a culture already steeped in insularity and distrust of foreigners.

    Rational arguments will be possible around the negotiating table, no problem, but once you start sending assassins to kill KJI, it is game over.

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