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Don't Go Wobbly On North Korea (The Wall Street Journal

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Don't Go Wobbly On North Korea

Presidents Obama and Lee should suspend

the Six Party Talks

and focus on credible deterrence.

Presidents Barack Obama and Lee Myung-bak responded prudently and calmly to the sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan in March. They focused their energies on a deliberate investigation to determine the cause of the sinking and avoiding speculation about North Korea's involvement or hypothetical discussions about retaliatory measures. But as evidence mounts that North Korea was behind the ship's sinking and the death of 46 sailors, what comes next? As Margaret Thatcher might have said, this is not the time for Washington nor Seoul to go wobbly.


Given North Korea's opaque totalitarian system, it is virtually impossible to determine why the attack took place. The most plausible explanation is that Kim Jong Il ordered retaliation for the drubbing that North Korean ships suffered when they provoked a November clash with South Korea's naval forces near the contested "Northern Limit Line" in the Yellow Sea. The Kim regime may want to demonstrate its grip on power, particularly amid failing attempts to craft a cult of personality for a power succession to his youngest son, Kim Jong Un, and media reports about internal instability in the wake of failed currency reforms. Pyongyang may have sought to distract the international community from its nuclear arsenal and discussions of reviving the Six Party Talks. Or perhaps Kim sought to punish South Korea for its demand that aid must be met with reciprocal steps at denuclearization.


None of these explanations are mutually exclusive and all would be consistent with past patterns of North Korean behavior. Yet this attack still stands out as potentially the most brazen premeditated attack on the South since the 1983 bombing of the South Korean cabinet in Rangoon. In that context, the U.S. and South Korea must together craft a resolute response.

YONHAP/AFP/Getty Images

A South Korean mother weeps for her son at a funeral ceremony.last month.

President Lee's options are all problematic. A deliberate military counterstrike would risk sudden escalation with a North Korean regime that has over 11,000 artillery pieces and missiles within striking range of Seoul, not to mention the hundreds of missiles aimed at Japan and a possibly weaponized nuclear capacity. Seoul could suspend North-South economic cooperation at the Kaesong industrial complex, but that would cost South Korean companies profits and increase China's economic influence over the North.


Some policy makers in Seoul hope the U.S. State Department will return North Korea to the list of state sponsors of terrorism and re-impose largely symbolic sanctions lifted in October 2008 in a vain effort at the time to convince Pyongyang to come clean on its plutonium production at the Yongbyon.


However, State's lawyers have been hesitant to use the terrorism list as a policy tool, using the excuse that changes to the list are supposed to follow a rigorous legal process.


The South Korean and U.S. governments are both pessimistic about pushing for a United Nations Security Council resolution since they expect a Chinese veto as long as North Korea continues denying any role in the attack. Indeed, many South Korean officials remember that China allowed only a tepid statement from the U.N. Security Council President after a North Korean submarine entered South Korean waters in 1999.


All of these challenges, however, don't add up to impotence. If the Cheonan investigation proves Pyongyang's culpability in the coming weeks, then South Korea and the U.S. must re-establish deterrence by demonstrating the consequences of such a pre-meditated military attack.


A retaliatory military strike is too high-risk, given escalation dangers. But the U.S. and South Korea could start by enhancing their joint military posture in the Yellow Sea and pursuing more aggressive anti-submarine patrols near the disputed Yellow Sea border. Washington has been hesitant for decades to acknowledge Seoul's claims to territorial control at the Northern Limit Line, since the maritime line was not included in the armistice that ended the Korean War, but through actions if not declaratory policy, the U.S. should demonstrate greater support for Seoul's position to dissuade Pyongyang from further provocations in this heretofore grey area.


The U.S. and South Korea should also delay the transfer of wartime operational command to South Korea, a transfer that 10 million South Koreans have signed petitions to stop because they worried about the signals it sent to the North. In addition, Washington should put North Korea back on the terrorism list, legal technicalities aside. For its part, South Korea should suspend economic cooperation at Kaesong, since doing otherwise would suggest to the North that profit matters more to the South than security. The two democracies should step up trilateral security cooperation with Japan. Finally, both countries should put the Six Party Talks on hold. The talks are a means to an end and not a terribly useful means at this juncture.


Going forward, Seoul and Washington need to think about imposing costs on Beijing for enabling North Korea's provocative behavior. Kim Jong Il's trip to China last week was an affront to the South Korean people, who mourned the death of the Cheonan's crewmen as they watched the Chinese

leadership welcome the person almost certainly responsible for the attack. The standard U.N. logic is that it is better to preserve solidarity among the five non-North Korean parties in the Six Party Talks than risk a divisive resolution. This approach has conditioned Beijing not to worry about backing dangerous states like North Korea. It would be far better at this point to advance a resolution condemning the North Korean attack and forcing Beijing to stand alone with Pyongyang.


The U.S. and South Korea face difficult decisions in the coming weeks. Now is the time to demonstrate the strength of joint resolve, not weakness.



Mr. Green is senior advisor and Japan chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and associate professor at Georgetown University.



[ 2010-05-12, 10:16 ] 조회수 : 3062
출처 : The Wall Street Journal