And even the Chosun Ilbo thought so. Well, maybe not funny.
Anyway, from TIME:
Kim didn’t specifically say it was a North Korean torpedo. He didn’t need to; nor necessarily does the South Korean government want to. “South Korea is now like a CSI investigator who, upon seeing a dead body with a bullet hole in the forehead refuses to rule out a heart attack as the cause of death since the only suspect in the room with a pistol is a vicious gangland boss,” says Bruce Klingner, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a former CIA analyst. “Better to engage in a lengthy investigation, both to gather irrefutable evidence and to delay the inevitable day of reckoning.”
It’s not a bad piece, to be sure, but I disagree with this:
The gangster analogy is apt. It precisely captures the dynamic that keeps the North’s relations with the outside world pretty much exactly where they’ve been for the past 20 years. As long as Kim & Co. don’t do anything truly crazy, like start bombing Seoul, there is virtually nothing that South Korea, the U.S. or anyone else can do to constrain their smaller acts of war. And make no mistake, shooting a torpedo that sinks a South Korean ship in South Korea’s own waters is an act of war, no less than a North Korean artillery attack on the South Korean parliament building in Seoul would be.
It’s just that smaller acts of war cannot be allowed to matter. Hillary Clinton infuriated many South Koreans when she said on April 22 that she hopes “there is no talk of war, there is no action or miscalculation that could provoke a response that might lead to conflict. That’s not in anyone’s interest.” The Secretary of State also added that “the way to resolve the outstanding differences [between the Koreas] was for the North to return to the six-party talk framework [which involves trying to bribe the North into giving up its nuclear weapons] as soon as possible.” Though the State Department says Clinton’s message was aimed at Pyongyang, that’s not the way a lot of people in the South took it. To them it sounded like 46 South Korean sailors lie at the bottom of the sea, but God forbid South Korea do anything that might “lead to conflict.”
It’s not that South Korea, the US or anyone else can’t do anything to constrain North Korea’s smaller acts of war. It’s that they don’t. Much is made of the threat of war, and with good reason. Seoul has much to lose if the balloon goes up. That said, so does North Korea. Pyongyang has the ability to hurt the South terribly, but the South — with the United States — has the ability to terminate the existence of the North Korean state if they choose, as they certainly would in the event of a war. Assuming North Korea — which I think is much more rational in its decision-making than people give it credit for — doesn’t want to start a war that it will lose in a very permanent sense, South Korea could take a page from the North Korean play book and launch some retaliatory “provocations” of its own. JoongAng Ilbo editorial writer Kim Jin was right — the military option has to be on the table.
The problem is that it would take a very, very big set of balls to test this theory, especially in the face of North Korea’s carefully crafted image of bat-shit insanity. Most responsible leaders don’t have that kind of set, a fact we all should probably be very thankful for. God knows, I doubt I’d have the stones to order the F-15s to start bombing North Korean naval bases. Unfortunately, this leads the North to believe — quite rightly — that its adversaries are so frightened of it that it can get away with provocations that would get other countries bombed. So they continue to do so, knowing full well that, at worst, their adversaries will get pissed (oh no!), and at best, it’ll win them concessions and/or create political headaches for whoever is leading South Korea.