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Another Day, Another Threat of North Korean Action

Ooo… North Korea is very, very angry about a planned South Korean anti-sub drill in the West Sea:

North Korea warned South Korean fishermen on Tuesday to stay away from disputed border waters and threatened a “strong physical retaliation” against a coming South Korean naval drills.

The drills — five days of antisubmarine exercises starting Thursday — were scheduled in response to the sinking in March of a South Korean warships near the disputed western sea border that killed 46 sailors. South Korea said a North Korean torpedo split the ship, the Cheonan, in two.

On Tuesday, North Korea’s western military command “made a decisive resolution to counter the reckless naval firing projected by the group of traitors with strong physical retaliation,” said a statement carried by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.

Read: North Korea could conduct missile/artillery tests in the West Sea. Or they could do something stupid like fire on a South Korean ship. Or they could do something even more stupid and nuke themselves again. Or not.

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.

‘고통 준 세력 찾아내 큰 대가 치르게 할것’

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Kim Sung-chan is clearly angry:

In a eulogy that followed, Adm. Kim Sung-chan, the Navy chief of staff, hailed the heroic endeavors of the Cheonan soldiers and vowed to take revenge on whomever attacked the ship.

“What happened on March 26 at Baengnyeong Island [near which the ship sank] should not have happened,” Kim read, his voice trembling.

The nation’s military leaders plus Gen. Walter Sharp, commander of the U.S. Combined Forces Command, were in attendance.

“We cannot and must not forgive this or forget this. Whoever caused our people great pains, we will not sit idly by. We will pursue [the responsible party] to the end and make it pay a huge price.

I actually tend to agree with the Hankyoreh that some of the reporting on Cheonan has been irresponsible, but it seems to me the Navy is certain this was no accident.

On a final note, while I’m not one to take joy in anything that happens at a funeral, I did feel some degree of satisfaction reading that the mother of one of the fallen, Senior Chief Petty Officer Min Pyeong-gi, harangued Democratic Labor Party chairman Kang “The Hanboked One” Ki-gap (can’t watch the video) — he who apparently thinks the Americans know what happened to the Cheonanafter the floral tribute:

After a floral tribute, the mother of the late Senior Chief Petty Officer Min Pyeong-gi approached the chairman of the progressive Democratic Labor Party, Kang Ki-kap, who was seated in the front row. She said, “North Koreans killed my son. Please, never say (we should assist North Korea),” and then collapsed.

She actually said a bit more than that.

7 Minutes Missing from Cheonan Communication Records?

A Democratic Party lawmaker is claiming that seven minutes of communication records — from the time right before the Cheonan sank — is missing.

As this coincides with the time a now-dead crew member ended a phone call with his family, explaining that an emergency had begun, this has people asking questions.

Like I said, it’s hard to know who or what to believe with this thing…

NK Torpedo Likely Sank Cheonan: US

According to CNN, a US military official believes a torpedo was the most likely cause of the explosion that sank the Cheonan:

A North Korean torpedo attack was the most likely cause for the sinking of a South Korean warship last month, according to a US military official.

The US believes the ship was sunk by the blast of an underwater explosion, but that the explosive device itself did not come in contact with the hull of the South Korean ship, the official said.

This is the same conclusion expressed by South Korean military officials.

And that’s the entire report. I was hoping for something a bit more substantial, but that’s it.

Defense Minister Kim Tae-young apparently believes a “bubble-jet impact” — caused by a torpedo — broke the ship in half. For a full analysis of North Korean heavy torpedo capabilities, see this piece in the Korea Times.

In the meantime, not that I’m the Hankyoreh, but I’ll wait for something conclusive before I jump on the vengeance bandwagon.

The Dead and Missing

From the front page of today’s Hankyoreh:

Open Thread #145

Have a good weekend.

Torpedo ‘Likely’ Cause of Cheonan Sinking?

The Defense Minister is talking again:

Defense Minister Kim Tae-young said yesterday he thinks a torpedo attack is the more likely cause of the sinking of the Navy patrol ship Cheonan.

During a question-and-answer session on emergency matters at the National Assembly in Seoul, Kim said a torpedo attack and a sea mine blast were the two most likely causes of the tragedy, but he put more weight on the idea of a torpedo attack.
In case of a torpedo attack, either the weapon can hit the ship directly or it can explode right below the vessel and create a bubble jet effect [a type of underwater explosion] to break the ship, Kim said. The picture of the cut sections seems like it had been hit by a torpedo directly.

OK, at this point, I note:

I’m going to assume at this point that if the Cheonan was torpedoed, it wasn’t by the Cambodian freighter. Speaking of which:

A fishing boat has vanished and is feared to have sunk after searching for sailors missing from last week’s naval disaster, maritime police said Saturday.

Police said they lost contact with the 99-ton boat, carrying nine people aboard, after receiving a distress signal at around 8:30 p.m. Friday in the area off the western sea border with North Korea, where the patrol ship Cheonan ship sank on March 26.
The police said they were also chasing a Cambodian-registered 1,472-ton vessel sailing nearby to determine whether the two vessels had collided. They cite oil floating in waters near the scene.

The Coast Guard, BTW, caught the freighter on the high seas and are bringing it back to Incheon.

Marmot’s Note: If the North Koreans DID sink the Cheonan — and I really, really hope they didn’t — it would be more than just the usual nonsense: it could be “Load the JDAMs and Fire Up the F-15s, Cheol-soo” time. Now that the incident is several days old and the government has had time to consider the potential consequences of making it rain steel on North Korean naval installations, I have no idea what President Lee will do. I will say, however, it’s going to be very, very difficult for him NOT to retaliate in one way or the other for the murder of over 50 ROK Navy sailors IF that’s what the sinking turns out to be.

UPDATE: Please see ROK Drop’s post, too.

Navy Diver Dies in Search for Cheonan Crew

Condolences go out to the family of this man:

A Korean military diver died Tuesday after falling unconscious while searching for sailors, who went missing after a Navy ship sank in the western waters Friday night.

Han Joon-ho, 53, a warrant officer, passed out around 3:20 p.m. due to the strong underwater pressure and currents when he was trying to enter the bow of the frigate Cheonan, according to the Ministry of National Defense.

Han from the Navy’s Ship Salvage Unit (SSU) was immediately moved to a nearby U.S. rescue ship but pronounced dead, a ministry spokesman said.

Defense Minister Says Warship May Have Hit NK Mine

From the KT:

Defense Minister Kim Tae-young cautiously raised the possibility Monday that the ill-fated frigate Cheonan may have hit a mine laid by North Korea.

His remark drew attention as Cheong Wa Dae and defense officials had previously sought to downplay the North’s possible involvement in the deadly ship wreck Friday in which 46 South Korean sailors remain missing in action.

Answering questions at the National Assembly on the cause of the incident, Kim said, North Korean mines may have floated into our territorial waters.

However, he refused to comment on whether the mines had been placed by the North intentionally or had drifted into South Korean waters.

Defense Minister Kim likes to talk. A little too much, IMHO. Can’t anyone just say “we’re keeping all possibilities open”?

On the speculation front, we have the Kukmin Ilbo wondering what the Cheonan was doing there in the first place (the speculation being it had something to do with North Korea declaring the area a no-go area) and the guy from Nambuk Story speculation that if North Korea did it (and he doesn’t think they did), they’d use female commando/suicide bombers in semi-submersibles.

Interestingly, the ROK military apparently has TOD footage of the sinking vessel, although it’s doubtful it will provide many clues. At any rate, the military won’t release it.

BTW, GI Korea has been doing a great job blogging this tragedy/outrage, so go to his site for the links.

Great, More Dead Fish

Looks like the North Koreans will resume shelling in the West Sea.

I sure hope they’re having fun.

When Will The Pointless Slaughter of Fish Stop? The Humanity!

North Korea reportedly shelled its own territorial waters again this morning.

Interestingly, it appears North Korea fired off a total of about 90 rounds yesterday. No shortage of shells up there, apparently.

North, South Korea Exchange Coastal Artillery Fire

North Korea started the workday with an artillery barrage into the West Sea.

South Korea responded with artillery fire of its own… but not to worry:

South Korea’s presidential Blue House said both sides were firing into the air and there were no casualties, according to Yonhap. It has called a meeting of top national security officials.

Boys will be boys.

According to SBS, the North Korean fire landed on their side of the NLL.

Firefight (?) in West Sea

KBS is reporting that a naval skirmish between North and South Korean patrol boats took place this morning in the West Sea.

The Defense Ministry is saying a North Korean patrol boat crossed the NLL near Daecheong-do at around 11:30am, prompting the South Korean navy to fire a warning shot. The North Korean boat ignored this, and the South Koreans attacked. Or so the ministry said.

Looks like KBS updated/corrected their piece — the Joint Chiefs is saying the North Korean patrol boat came across the line, the South Korean patrol boat warned them by radio several times and then fired a warning shot, to which the North Koreans then fired on the South Koreans. The North Koreans fired about 50 rounds, of which 15 hit the South Korean ship, causing no real damage. What followed was a two-minute fire-fight that ended with the North Korean patrol boat retreating back across the NLL in flames.

The South Koreans suffered no losses, as far as the ministry knows.

A government source, meanwhile, told KBS that the matter ended with the North Korean boat retreating. Oddly enough, he said it appears the North Korean boat crossed the NLL to chase away a Chinese pirate fishing boat illegally operating in Korean waters. The source also said it has yet to be confirmed who fired first and that the ROK Navy responded according to the rules of engagement.

This was the first inter-Korean naval incident in seven years.

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