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LMB ordered N. Korea bombed, military said no, citing United States

Or so President Lee told the Chosun Ilbo.

In an interview with Korea’s paper of record, Lee said after North Korea shelled Yeonpyeongdo in November 2010, he told China that from now on, he would use the Army, Navy and Air Force to retaliate against not only the source of any North Korean provocation, but also support units as well. He also told the Chinese to tell this to the North Koreans, which they did during Dai Bingguo subsequent visit to Pyongyang.

He said this because he believed North Korea does what it does because it thinks the Americans won’t let the South retaliate (Marmot’s Note: He’s probably right about this, which makes the situation even more dangerous since even the long-suffering South Korean military can take only so much shit from the North Koreans. One of these days, they’re going to snap).

Seemingly proving his point, Lee said at the time of the Yeonpyeongdo Incident, he ordered the Air Force to strike North Korean targets, but a high-ranking military official blocked him, saying that the Air Force mustn’t get involved per the rules of engagement, and that they needed to consult with the Americans.

Lee said he later corrected the rules of engagement so that commanders on the ground could respond immediately and make their reports later. He also said the Americans at first opposed Lee’s plan to expand retaliation to support units, but the Koreans got their way in the end thanks to strong persuasion.

Lee said the most heartbreaking incident during his term was the loss of 46 sailors in the Cheonan sinking. He said it hurt when the men were killed, and it hurt again when people said the attack was staged.

When asked what he was most proud of, it was that Korea maintained plus growth when the world was experiencing minus growth due to the economic crisis. He said the world recognized this, and this made Korea the chair of the G20 summit.

There’s a time and place for everything

So, Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik was speaking at the two-year memorial service for the 46 ROKN sailors who were murdered by North Korea when it sank the Cheonan:

The prime minister stressed that the country should stop wasting time arguing over the cause of the Cheonan’s sinking and using it as a means to score ideological and political points. Rather, it should focus on establishing stronger security, he said on the second anniversary of the tragedy.

“The biggest threat to the country’s security is the internal rift,” Kim said during the ceremony.

“We can’t waste the time that we need to use for promoting a stronger security system because we have different political ideologies. We have learned from the Cheonan tragedy and Yeonpyong Island provocation that no peace or prosperity in our country will advance unless the country’s security is established. There is no doubt that the North took the South’s precious lives.”

About the internal divide, what Kim actually said was that we find even more regretful that there are still people looking for the cause of the Cheonan sinking elsewhere, and this hurt the victims’ families even more, and that the reason we must remember the sinking of the Cheonan is that a nation that forgets its past has no future.

Going after certain segments of the opposition for its views about the Cheonan sinking is fair game 99% of the time, but really, we’re going to do this at a memorial service? It just comes off as politicizing the murder of 46 men, which, granted, is unavoidable given the nature of what happened, but probably could wait for a time when the families of the dead and UDP chairwoman Han Myeong-sook weren’t sitting in the audience.

A moment of remembrance

One year ago today, North Korea murdered 46 South Korean seamen when it sank the ROKS Cheonan.

I’m tempted to launch into a tirade against the Hankyoreh for the manner in which they chose to remember the outrage.

I will save that for a later time, though. For now, I ask that readers take just a moment to remember the sacrifice of the men of the Cheonan.

PSPD sends inquiries on Cheonan sinking to US, Swedish ambassadors

Ahead of the one-year anniversary of North Korea’s outrageous sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan, the usual suspects, including the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD), are once again questioning whether North Korea did it. Even Democratic Party floor leader Park Jie-won — whom you’ll recall was convicted in 2003 for his role in illegally bribing North Korea with US$500 million in Hyundai’s money to agree to a summit with late Korean president Kim Dae-jung in 2000 — is getting in the act:

Lawmakers from opposition parties have demanded questions raised by the public be resolved by the government. “The South Korean people and international scholars still have doubts on why the Cheonan sank,” said Park Jie-won, floor leader of the Democratic Party. “The government should come forward actively and dissipate these doubts. He urged the government to disclose details of the Cheonan “like they did in the rescue operation in the Gulf of Aden.”

Park also demanded that meetings of the special committee for the Cheonan be restarted, as only two were held since the sinking of the corvette. “[The Democratic Party] never said that North Korea was or was not behind the sinking,” Park said. “If it was North Korea, then there should be firm measures using all methods possible so that North Korea takes proper responsibility. “President Lee Myung-bak has said that he has hard-line policies regarding North Korea, but they are not tough, and national security and inter-Korean relations have all failed,” he continued. “I feel a regional military conflict coming on as the government is in a helpless state.”

Me thinks Park would better spend his time clearing up questions as to where that US$500 million to North Korea went.

Anyway, the PSPD, which, ahem, generated controversy last year when it sent a letter questioning the South Korean government’s findings regarding the Cheonan sinking to the UN Security Council, is marking the one-year anniversary by sending letters of inquiry to the US and Swedish ambassadors to Korea. If you read Korean, you can read the inquiries here.

On an almost completely unrelated note, you’ll be happy to learn that PSPD — its views on UN action against North Korea for its brutal violations of simple human dignity not withstanding — has condemned Gaddafi’s crackdown in Libya and urged Korea to support recent measures in the UNHRC against Tripoli.

Why the Defense Ministry might seem less than forthcoming about the Cheonan

In a parliamentary audit of the Defense Ministry, Rep. Shin Hak-yong claimed the ROK 2nd Fleet knew a North Korean Yono-class midget sub was somewhere out there the day before the Cheonan sank, and that North Korea put its coastal artillery in a state of combat readiness just prior to the sinking:

The Navy corvette Cheonan was warned on the morning it sank on March 26 that a salmon-class North Korean submarine and support ships had disappeared from their bases the day before, a lawmaker claims.

Democratic Party lawmaker Shin Hak-yong on Monday said on the morning of the North’s attack on the Cheonan, “warnings were given by the Second Fleet Command that a salmon [Yono]-class North Korean submarine and support ships had been out to sea for unknown operations. Right before the Cheonan was attacked, all artillery guns on the nearby North Korean coasts were found to be combat-ready. But despite these rapid movements of the North Korean military, neither the Joint Chiefs of Staff nor the Second Fleet Command took appropriate measures.”

This is just more evidence of the ineptitude of the Korean military prior to and after the sinking.

Defense Minister Kim Tae-young, criticizing Shin for leaking intelligence, nonetheless said that at the time, they didn’t judge the situation to be serious. Kim also told lawmakers they would consider seeking indictments of the former captain of the Cheonan, Cdr. Choi Won-il, and the former commander of the 2nd Fleet Command, R. Adm. Kim Dong-shik, who have been booked since August on charges of neglecting their duties.

At this point, though, you wonders if heads have to roll a bit further up the Defense Ministry food chain.

While we’re on the subject, though, those Yono-class subs sure are tiny: take a look at the photo of the subs in the Iranian navy here.

Most South Koreans distrust Cheonan findings?

According to one poll, most South Koreans distrust the findings of an international investigation into the sinking of the Cheonan:

Only three out of 10 South Koreans trust the findings of an international inquiry into the sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan that blamed a North Korean torpedo attack.

According to a survey conducted by Seoul National University’s Institute for Peace and Unification Studies, 32.5 percent of respondents were more or less convinced, saying they “completely trust” (6.4 percent) or “tend to trust” (26.1 percent) the findings of the inquiry.

But 35.7 percent of respondents were not convinced, with 10.7 percent saying they “completely distrust” and 25 percent they “tend to distrust” the findings. The remainder said they did not know.

The key factor in this? According to the pollsters, it’s that nobody trusts the Lee Myung-bak government:

“Regression analysis shows that the public view of President Lee Myung-bak’s performance in government had a three to four times greater impact on perceptions of the probe results than other factors such as age and political affiliations,” the IPUS researcher said. In other words, public lack of confidence in the government reflected on the findings.

Given the low levels of trust Koreans have in their government, this is not entirely surprising, especially given the sometimes ham-fisted manner in which the authorities have handled the sinking. Still, doubtlessly there’s a North Korean official laughing his rear off reading this.

Being a liar/commie/fascist is a crime?

Prosecutors have indicted Sin Sang-cheol, a former member of the joint civilian—military investigation team that investigated the Cheonan, for “spreading false facts.

Sin has been claiming that the Cheonan sank after it ran aground and was struck by a US warship, and that the government has been involved in a cover-up. Apparently, he is being charged with defamation, too.

At this point, I think we should re-read what Joshua at One Free Korea wrote concerning Rev. Han Song Ryol and the disturbing tendency of South Korea to turn undeserving figures into martyrs:

If you hold a ceremony to welcome Han Song Ryol back home, you’re either a paid-up member of the Fifth Column or willfully ignorant of facts that would make any reasonable thinker want to dissociate himself from Han. Not that this should surprise us in the case of the Democratic Labor Party, whose North Korean influence was so brazen that it resulted in criminal convictions during the Roh Administration and split the party itself.

I’m also cynical enough to suspect that in practice, the same probably also applies to those who bothered to protest Han’s arrest publicly, though I also protest the fact of Han’s arrest for his words, and I can’t remember the first or last time anyone accused me of being a follower of the North Korean regime. The South Korean government’s prosecution of repellent ideas has only glorified those ideas (and in due course, we’ll also learn that North Korea’s suppression of dissent was less successful than we tend to estimate).

Public distrust and the Cheonan

OK, it’s a bit old (July 29), but in case you haven’t seen it, be sure to check out Mike Breen’s column, “Fortune-teller and Cheonan.” Here’s a bit of it:

Why does Kim disagree with the official story? It is certainly the most obvious conclusion and one backed by evidence, notably the alleged torpedo itself salvaged from the sea bed, and by logic with regard to motive and capability.

But, as his preference for the fortune-teller’s tale suggests, when there is basic mistrust, no amount of evidence is persuasive. In fact, if anything, good evidence works the other way. The more rational the case, the less its emotional appeal. For those in such a frame of mind, truth recedes to a place where it can only be reached by those with access to the files or by shamans who have alternative means to get there.

Such mistrust of authority and their public announcements has its roots in how power used to be wielded as a club against truth. For example, the mass executions by the government of thousands of citizens without trial during the Korean War were blamed on communists. For years afterwards, family members of victims who knew the truth were closely monitored and prevented from speaking out.

Times, of course, have changed. But even in democratic Korea, there seems to be a preference for suppression over debate. When a former senior presidential secretary under the previous government asked in a radio interview for greater disclosure from the military and government, the defense minister, Kim Tae-young, charged him with defamation.

Well, if you can’t believe the Russians, who can you believe?

The Hankyoreh — who else! — got their paws on the findings of a team of Russian naval experts who came to Korea to study the sinking of the Cheonan. Not surprisingly, the Russians argue that the Cheonan could have hit a mine:

On Monday, the Hankyoreh acquired a document titled “Data from the Russian Naval Expert Group’s Investigation into the Cause of the South Korean Naval Vessel Cheonan’s Sinking,” in which the Russian team stated, “The explosion time officially stated by South Korea [9:21:58 p.m.] does not coincide with the time of the last video footage taken on the day in question when the power current was cut off within the vessel [9:17:03 p.m.].” This statement hints that an uncontrollable situation may have arisen at least four to five minutes before the time announced by the South Korean team.
On its conclusions regarding the cause of the sinking, the Russian team wrote, “The claims that it was a non-contact external underwater explosion were borne out.” At the same time, it conjectured that the accident occurred when “the vessel’s propeller happened to get caught in a net as it was sailing through shallow waters near the coast, and as the vessel was trying to extricate itself to deep waters, its lower part struck a [mine] antenna and set off the triggering device.”

Now, far be it for me to ever doubt a team of Russians, but on the off-chance that they’re full of it, what would be in it for them other than to be a pain in the arse?

Oh, and the Hani is calling for — surprise! — a parliamentary re-investigation. Good grief…

Need More Proof North Korea Is a Gangster Kingdom?

OK, so during the opening ceremony of the World Cup, all the ambassadors — including South Korean ambassador Kim Han-su and North Korean ambassador An Hwi-jong — are there. Kim leaves for a moment to go to the bathroom, and An follows him out, grabs his arm, and tells him, “If you keep going on like this [about the Cheonan sinking], we, too, won’t just let it slide.”

Or so reports the Chosun Ilbo, quoting diplomatic sources.

One diplomatic source said it was a sign of North Korean displeasure with South Korean legations asking their host governments to issue statements condemning the North for the sinking.

And in related news, Korean is planning to make the foreign service exam easier. No word on whether the new entry system will include an interview question on what to do when you’re accosted by a North Korean thug diplomat in the washroom.

Yeah, But Were They COMMIE Balloons?

The military clearly doesn’t want to get caught again asleep at the wheel (or drunk in the KTX, as it were):

A military source told the Joong-Ang Ilbo that the military, together with the police, mobilized a special task force early yesterday morning after it received a report from a resident living in Ansan, South Chung-cheong, that 40 to 50 flying objects resembling parachutes descended on a mountain the previous night.

The resident told the military that human movements were also sensed in the area where the objects fell.

The military checked radar systems but found nothing, the source said. But in case North Korea was trying to infiltrate, officials sent the report up the chain of command to Defense Minister Kim Tae-young. Kim and Lee Sang-eui, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, then ordered a military task force formed. Lee, who tendered his application for retirement after being accused of drinking heavily on the night of the sinking of the warship Cheonan in March, remains on duty until his successor is confirmed.

The source said the flying objects turned out to be balloons from a nearby kindergarten.

(HT to reader)

North Korea? Making Threats? It Can’t Be!

North Korea… you’ll miss ’em after they’re gone:

North Korea’s U.N. envoy said on Tuesday that any U.N. Security Council action over the sinking of a South Korean naval ship that was hostile to Pyongyang would be met by a military “follow-up.”
“If the Security Council release any documents against us condemning or questioning us in any document then myself as diplomat I can do nothing, but the follow-up measures will be carried out by our military forces,” North Korea’s U.N. Ambassador Sin Son-ho told a rare news conference.
“I told you that if any action is taken by Security Council against us, I lose my job,” he said. “Military will have its own job, I mean follow-up. I gave you the answer. You can prejudge what is the meaning I have told you.”

One would think North Korea might set aside some of the money it makes selling missile technology to the Iranians to hire a decent PR guy, but apparently not. Heck, with some South Korean civic groups seemingly willing to do their PR work for free (and I’ve always felt Pyongyang would be better served just by shutting up and letting the useful idiots do the talking), all they’d have to do is listen.

For those looking to see North Korean UN ambassador Sin Son-ho in action, see the CNN video below. Love the smirk. And the hair. Great hair.

I Suppose It’s Not Treason, But It Still Stinks

I doubt this will have any real effect other than to piss off conservative newspapers (see this), but it still seems wrong:

A local civic group has submitted a letter raising suspicions about the cause of the Cheonan sinking to the UN Security Council, throwing a spanner into Seoul’s diplomatic efforts to draw international censure upon Pyongyang for the attack.

The move by the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD), one of South Korea’s oldest and best-known civic groups, comes as Seoul diplomats grapple to gain support from China and Russia – key members of the Security Council and North Korea’s allies – for an official reprimand at the United Nations level, whether by resolution or less-binding presidential statement.
The PSPD said in its June 10 letter that Seoul’s final report had “many loopholes” and “lacks convincing rationale.”
“PSPD is seriously concerned with the countermeasures deployed by President Lee Myung-bak, which have provoked serious political and diplomatic controversies,” the letter said.

Now, I’m not going to make accusations or doubt the PSPD’s sincerity, but I’ve gotta say the same thing Prime Minister Chung Un-chan — no arch-conservative by any means — says: “I wonder which country these people belong to.”

The PSPD, meanwhile, argues that President Lee is taking the Cheonan sinking before the UN Security Council before there is internal agreement on the issue. As if there was ever going to be any internal agreement about this…

Interestingly, the Chosun Ilbo piece linked above (here it is again) suggests that the day the PSPD sent out its letter, North Korea asked UN Security Council members for time to explain its side of the story, too. The UNSC granted the request, giving North Korea time to explain following the South Korean investigation team’s briefing (held this morning, Korea Times). The Chosun believes it likely North Korea will use the PSPD letter as a basis for its explanation. Now, I haven’t heard what North Korea said this morning — they will apparently talk to reporters in New York, however — but I will say that I’ve gotten the distinct feeling that with the Cheonan, rather than forming a “party line” and getting their allies in South Korea to follow it, it seems North Korea is actually taking its cues from what people are saying in South Korea.

More Talk of Retaliation

And of course, it’s Defense Minister Kim Tae-young:

Defense Minister Kim Tae-yung on Sunday threatened North Korea with retaliation if it is found to have been behind the sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan on March 26. “Retaliation — whatever form it takes — must be done,” Kim said on KBS TV. The possibility of a vicious cycle of retaliation “must clearly be considered,” he said.

The minister was echoing Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Kim Sung-chan’s pledge during Thursday’s funeral for the 46 sailors killed in the shipwreck that whoever caused the tragedy would not be forgiven and get away.

As we know, the defense minister talks a lot. But this time, he was joined by former USFK commander B.B. Bell (operative word: former), who, according to Ye Olde Chosun, called for strict blockade measures against the North if it is proven they sank the Cheonan.

The Chosun runs down some of the options, including large naval drills near the NLL, attacks on North Korean submarines, and my personal favorite — as it is of the defense minister, apparently — bringing in nuclear-armed US bombers:

Dispatching U.S. Air Force B-2 stealth bombers or B-52 bombers to the skies over the Korean Peninsula is also an option.

Asked by lawmaker Kim Jung of the Pro-Park Geun-hye Coalition at the National Assembly Defense Committee session last Wednesday whether deploying nuclear bombers alone could send a sufficiently strong message to the North, the minister replied, “I think it would be good show of force.”

Nothing like a little nuclear posturing to brighten one’s morning.

Anyway, I’ll believe any of this talk only when it actually happens.

Bruce Klingner Said a Funny/N. Korea Faces Constraints, Too

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.

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