Nobody Wants A Brawl With Pyongyang


By Dmitry Kosyrev

The most remarkable thing about the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan is that nobody wants to talk about it. Let’s look back at the international responses to the catastrophe: South Korean President Lee Myung-bak reported that he would submit the case to the UN Security Council. His American counterpart Barack Obama described this reaction as fully adequate. Others issued statements and condemnations. And that was it, strictly speaking, although 46 sailors died in this disaster.

Everything that is now going on between North and South Korea is anomalous and anachronistic in international politics. That is, all of this should not have happened from the standpoint of logic and pure reason. But it happened anyway, and it turns out that there is no way out of this predicament and no good solution. And so, there will be a series of symbolic gestures, and then the matter will be forgotten.

Impossible? Well, why not? Not so long ago, in 2007, Israel bombed a facility in Syria. People died, although it is not clear how many. Israel still claims that the facility was part of Syria’s military nuclear program, whereas Syria maintains it was a regular military base. The IAEA has been carrying out an inquiry for more than two and a half years. Nothing else has been done. It turns out anything is possible.

At first glance, everything seems more clear-cut with the South Korean warship. The international commission collected tangible evidence, including the fragments of a torpedo, and it became abundantly clear that that torpedo was launched from a North Korean submarine. It is also clear why the warship was hit – the two countries do not agree on the location of their maritime border. The South is convinced the warship was in its own waters, while the North is convinced of the opposite. The uproar started after the results of the inquiry were published. And most importantly, who would want to launch torpedoes at South Korean ships if not the North Koreans?

The point is that East Asian countries remember well how such cases play out. Remember, for example, the South Korean passenger Boeing that for some reason deviated from its planned route by 650 kilometers, flew into the Soviet air space and was shot down in 1983. The U.S.S.R. tried to defend itself – it explained that modern aircraft did not make such mistakes, and that the Boeing’s flight path had intersected with the American Orion reconnaissance plane, after which it became nearly impossible to tell which plane was which on radar.

It later turned out that the pilots of the South Korean airline regularly collected footage of Soviet territory for the CIA. There was a trial in Seoul that caused a stir on a national scale, but by that time the Soviet Union no longer existed. So, as a result, the airliner story became something similar to the assassination of President Kennedy – everyone understands that the official version somehow does not answer all the questions, and seems a lot like a provocation. But it is impossible to get to the bottom of it all, and nobody really wants to.

In other words, doubts about the conclusions of such commissions will always remain. It is another mater during, for example, a high-stakes game between the U.S.S.R. and the U.S, when it is possible to stage a competent provocation. But what if there are no stakes and the Korean problem has come to a complete standstill? Perhaps this is the beginning of a tougher, less effective policy against the North by the current South Korean president? Seoul has made many mistakes of course, but not to the point of sinking its own vessels.

However, it is hard to imagine who would benefit from such a provocation in this part of the world today. Something similar could have taken place under the previous American administration. In fact, the six-party talks were undertaken by regional powers (China, Russia and South Korea) to prevent the Bush administration from turning the Korean peninsula into a global flashpoint. But now it is clear that Washington has lost its taste for adventure.

Pyongyang is unlikely to admit in the near future that some of its admirals made a mistake. Likewise, it is unlikely to pay any compensation (and money cannot compensate for the loss of human lives). Could the UN Security Council impose sanctions against Pyongyang? Maybe, but what would be the point? Isolating North Korea from the rest of the world makes no sense, if only because it is already isolated. And an invasion of North Korea would result in much heavier casualties than the attack on the Cheonan. Nuclear weapons do not change anything – it would have been the same if North Korea were armed with spears and bows. Perhaps it makes sense to call the government in Pyongyang inadequate? But then it should not have been cornered in the first part of the 2000s.

It was amusing to hear Obama announce his decision to “review” U.S. policy on North Korea. In English, “to review” an issue means to study it again in order to determine whether the policy is correct, in which case it can be left as it is. But in this case, there was almost no policy at all, so there is nothing to review.

In a vast majority of cases – wars, manmade disasters and other incidents – the most sensible thing is to do nothing at all. One of the reasons is that there are no perpetrators – just a big disaster. Those directly involved in these events are aware of this, and simply put on a show for the public that is supposedly always willing to name and punish those responsible, lest another disaster happen again. And so, it seems that under the circumstances the most courageous thing to do is to openly admit that any action is worse than inaction.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s alone and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti, where this article was published.

Ria Novosti

RIA Novosti was Russia's leading news agency in terms of multimedia technologies, website audience reach and quoting by the Russian media.

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