It's official: South Korea has formally accused
North Korea of sinking a South Korean warship with a torpedo, killing 46 sailors. The
announcement comes after an international investigation into the
Cheonan's sinking in March. North Korea has already denied involvement.
Relations between the Koreas have always been tense, but after this
sign of aggression, many are asking: could it upset the fragile
balance in the region and derail tentative U.S. talks with Pyonyang over its nuclear program? How bad is this situation, and where does it go from here?
- In a Nutshell "South Korea's formal accusation," writes Mark Landler,
kicking off his analysis for The New York Times, " ... will set off a
diplomatic drumbeat to punish North Korea, backed by the United States
and other nations, which could end up in the United Nations Security
- The Task Ahead Time's Bill Powell
lays out the policy dilemma for "Seoul and its allies in Washington and
Tokyo--not to mention North Korea's patron in Beijing." The question is
this: "what price should North Korea pay in response to what appears to
have been an act of war and a clear violation of the armistice
agreement that has kept a tenuous peace on the peninsula since 1953?"
The Obama administration also has to decide whether, in light of the
Cheonan attack, to abandon the Bush-era project of "six-party talks
aimed at denuclearizing the North."
- Need to Find 'Goldilocks Approach' William Ruger and Robert Farley
write in The Korea Times, prior to the investigation's conclusion, that
"President now faced with the difficult decision of responding in a
manner that satisfies the country's national security needs without
upsetting its economic recovery or its standings at the polls." That
means "craft[ing] a policy that is neither so aggressive as to provoke
a spiral into general war with all of its associated human and economic
costs, nor so meek that North Korea is emboldened, the demands of
justice for the dead and wounded sailors unmet, and the public's
security concerns undiminished." They call this the "Goldilocks"
approach, and say they haven't seen any proposals yet that qualify.
They acknowledge some "military pinprick" may be "warranted," but point
to numerous difficulties in selecting a target: "North Korea might
welcome a military provocation in order to distract its people from the
dreadful economy and repressive political situation."
- Just How Hard That Is The Guardian's Julian Borger
points out that "Seoul refrained from accusations until a long,
painstaking investigation was carried out, because it is well aware how
limited its real options are--none of them very attractive." North
Korea has threatened nuclear attack "if punitive action is taken,"
explains Borger, and while "the threat of annihilation is fairly par
for the course for Pyongyang ... just because a threat is used
frequently does not mean it can safely be ignored." He explains: "there
is always the small chance that Kim Jong-il has descended into total
madness or a struggle for power in Pyongyang has unleashed a strain of
suicidal militarism." It's not clear, either, "what more the Security
Council can do" if this problem winds up there--"North Korea is already
under a tight sanctions regime."
- The Game Plan: Restart Dialogue Joel Wit
is a former State Department official who, in 1998, "led a team of
American government experts to an underground installation to determine
if North Korea was cheating on a 1994 agreement to eliminate its
nuclear weapons program." In short: he comes highly credentialed. He argues in The New York Times Tuesday that "the Cheonan sinking makes clear the dangers of playing a waiting
game," and that the Obama administration needs "to shift its approach
to North Korea," avoiding "a major escalation of tensions" by
"seek[ing] condemnation by the United Nations Security Council, while
expanding military defenses against the North and strengthening
cooperation with Japan." Furthermore, he says, "instead of demanding
new preconditions for talks--an apology for the Cheonan, for
example--we should mount a gradual pragmatic effort to engage in new
discussions, not as a reward for bad behavior or to talk for the sake
of talking, but to make us more secure." He provides examples from the
past to argue that "even limited success [in talks] is better than none
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