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The ship was raised, and in an incredible display of forensic investigation, the South Koreans were able to recover fragments of the torpedo that destroyed their warship. The South formed a group of international experts— the United States, Canada, Britain and Australia sent military personnel to assist — and both the international group and South Koreans concluded that the torpedo was of North Korean design. North Korea, of course, rejected the findings of the allied nations. (Russian experts came to no conclusion, saying there was not enough evidence to be sure it was a deliberate Northern attack, while China suggested that the Cheonan was sunk by accidental contact with a mine or a collision with an American submarine).
The government of the South resisted serious public pressure after that attack to retaliate with force against the North. This attack is likely to prove similar, if not worse — a clash at sea between warships is one thing, shelling civilians in their homes is quite another. Already, there are signs that the government of the South is prepared to go to war should any further provocations be forthcoming — the President of South Korea has even gone so far as to expressly call for “enormous retaliation.” The United States, which maintains 28,000 troops in South Korea and has overall tactical command of all allied forces there, while calling for calm, quickly said that it was fully committed to South Korean security.
It is likely that the United States will be working behind the scenes to reduce tensions in the region. China is likely also applying pressure on their North Korean ally, despite the fact that China is maddeningly reluctant to punish North Korea for its actions, having given it diplomatic cover at the UN and elsewhere when it test fired missiles, exported nuclear technology and built up a nuclear arsenal of its own. North Korea has proven depressingly adept at creating crises and then waiting for international aid to pour in as part of “restoring calm.” It is likely that something similar will happen again.
But these are troubling times for the North Koreans. Their great leader, Kim Jong-il, has long been rumored to be in poor health, and of late, his son, Kim Jong-un, has been promoted to senior positions in the North Korean government in military, clearly to enable him to continue the family dynasty when his father dies. Tuesday’s attack can be seen as the younger man’s attempt to prove to the world that he is as intimidating (or unpredictably dangerous) as his father. If so, it is to be hoped he has no other such demonstrations planned. Today, the Korean peninsula stands on the brink of war. A rookie mistake by an inexperienced leader eager to live up to his father’s infamous standard might be all it takes to push things past the point of no return.
Matt Gurney is an editor at the National Post, a Canadian national newspaper, and writes and speaks on military and geopolitical issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @mattgurney.
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