Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Pyongyang sees US role in Cheonan sinking



Pyongyang sees US role in Cheonan sinking
By Kim Myong Chol



Despite its strong denial of any involvement and expressions of sympathy for lost fellow Koreans, fingers are being pointed at North Korea over the tragic sinking of the 1,200-ton South Korean corvette Cheonan in the West Sea or Yellow Sea on the night of March 26.

"A North Korean torpedo attack was the most likely cause for the sinking of a South Korean warship last month," an unnamed
US military official told CNN on April 26. Up to 46 of the ship's 104 sailors were killed in the sinking.

Apparently, North Korea is being set up as the fall guy in an incident that is so mysterious that a Los Angeles Times April 26 story datelined Seoul was headlined, "James Bond Theories Arise in Korean Ship Sinking".

So far, no hard evidence has been produced linking North Korea
to the disaster. However, this has not stopped media and experts from holding the North responsible. The South Korean daily Chosun Ilbo wrote on April 29, "It is difficult to imagine a country other than North Korea launching a torpedo attack against a South Korean warship."

Revealing circumstantial evidence
Is it possible that North Korea carried out the daring act of torpedoing a South Korean corvette participating in a US-South Korean war exercise? The answer is a categorical no. The circumstantial evidence is quite revealing, showing who is the more likely culprit.

Mission impossible
There are four important points that make it clear that a North Korean submarine did not sink the South Korean corvette.

Fact 1.North Korean submarines are not stealthy enough to penetrate heavily guarded South Korean waters at night and remain undetected by the highly touted anti-submarine warfare units of the American and South Korean forces. A North Korean submarine would be unable to outmaneuver an awesome array of high-tech Aegis warships, identify the corvette Cheonan and then slice it in two with a torpedo before escaping unscathed, leaving no trace of its identity.

Fact 2. The sinking took place not in North Korean waters but well inside tightly guarded South Korean waters, where a slow-moving North Korean submarine would have great difficulty operating covertly and safely, unless it was equipped with AIP (air-independent propulsion)

Fact 2: The disaster took place precisely in the waters where what the Pentagon has called "one of the world's largest simulated exercises" was underway. This war exercise, known as "Key Resolve/Foal Eagle" did not end on March 18 as was reported but actually ran from March 18 to April 30.

Fact 3: The Key Resolve/Foal Eagle exercise on the West Sea near the Northern Limit Line (NLL) was aimed at keeping a more watchful eye on North Korea as well as training for the destruction of weapons of mass destruction in the North. It involved scores of shiny, ultra-modern US and South Korean warships equipped with the latest technology.

Among the
fleet were four Aegis ships: the USS Shiloh (CG-67), a 9,600-ton Ticonderoga class cruiser, the USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG-54), a 6,800-ton Arleigh Burke class guided-missile destroyer, the USS Lassen, a 9,200-ton Arleigh Burke class guided-missile destroyer and Sejong the Great, a 8,500-ton South Korean guided-missile destroyer.

The four surface ships are the most important assets of the two navies, and have multi-mission
platforms capable of conducting various tasks, such as anti-submarine warfare. There is every likelihood that they were supported by nuclear-powered US submarines and a South Korean "Type 214" submarine that uses AIP technology.

The sinking of the Cheonan has made headlines around the world. If indeed it was a US accident, it is an embarrassing indictment of the accuracy of the expensive weapons systems of the US, the world's leading arms exporter. It has also cost the Americans credibility as the South's superpower guardian. Ironically, this has made North Korean-made weapons more attractive on the international market.

The South Koreans and the Americans charging the North Koreans with the sinking of the naval vessel in South Korean waters only highlights the poor performance of their expensive Aegis warships, as well as the futility of the US-South Korean joint war games and the US military presence in Korea.

Fact 4: Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg said on March 30 that he doubted there was North Korean involvement in the sinking: "Obviously the full investigation needs to go forward. But to my knowledge, there's no reason to believe or to be concerned that that may have been the cause."

General Walter Sharp, US Forces Korea (USFK) commander, also saw no link between North Korea and the sinking. In an April 6 press conference, he said: "We, as Combined Forces Command and the ROK [Republic of Korea] Joint Chief of Staff, watch North Korea very closely every single day of the year and we continue to do that right now. And again, as this has been said, we see no unusual activity at this time."

No motivation for vengeance
There have been misplaced reports that the sinking was an act of retaliation for a naval skirmish in November last year "in which the North came off worse", as reported by the Times of London on April 22.

As a North Korean navy officer, Kim Gwang-il, recalled on North Korean television on Armed Forces Day, April 25: "[In that incident] a warship of our navy single-handedly faced up to several enemy warships, to guard the NLL ... [The North's warship] inflicted merciless blows on them in a show of the might of the heroic Korean People's
Army (KPA) Navy."

The first duty of the KPA is to prevent war while jealously safeguarding the territorial air, sea and land of the
Democratic People's Republic of Korea, as this safeguards the peace and security of the Korean Peninsula.

The Korean People's Army Navy would not attack South Korean or American warships unless provoked, since these vessels carry innocent soldiers on the high seas. True, the KPA Navy would be justified in torpedoing a US Aegis ship or a nuclear-powered submarine if one were caught red-handed. But the KPA Navy would not stoop to infringing on South Korean waters to attack a South Korean ship at random, unless it had returned there after committing hostile acts against North Korea.

Friendly fire
Seven facts indicate friendly fire as the most likely cause of the naval disaster. It may be no exaggeration to say that the South Korean president and his military leaders have shed crocodile tears over the dead South Korean sailors.

A torpedo could have been launched from any of the American or South Korean warships or warplanes taking part in the Foal Eagle exercise alongside the hapless Cheonan.

The four Aegis ships and most South Korean warships carry Mark 46 torpedoes, which have improved shallow-water performance for anti-submarine warfare and anti-ship operations.

General Sharp had issued on March 4 a five-point
safety message warning that "a single accident can undermine the training benefits you will receive during KR/FE '10. Remain vigilant and engaged."

It appears that Sharp's warning came true, and the US repeated the kind of friendly fire incident for which it is notorious in Iraq and Afghanistan.

After the ship disaster happened on the night of March 26, Sharp promptly cut a visit to Washington to testify at congress to fly back to Seoul, according to the March 30 edition of Kyonggi Ilbo.

President Barack Obama then called his South Korean counterpart on April 1, ostensibly to express condolences over the ship disaster, but also to offer him the privilege of hosting the next nuclear security summit in 2012, as was reported by Joong Ang Ilbo on April 14.

Obama made this offer one week before he and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a nuclear arms reduction treaty in Prague, and two weeks before the 2010 nuclear security summit took place in Washington.

When Obama announced his decision to select South Korea as host of the next major nuclear security summit in 2012, Agence France-Presse reported that "the announcement surprised many". Most observers presumed that Russia would lead the next meeting.

The most plausible explanation is that Obama offered South Korea the summit due to an overriding need to mollify otherwise possible South Korean resentment at the friendly fire sinking, while covering up the US's involvement in a friendly fire torpedo attack. Most probably, Sharp reported to Obama the potentially disastrous consequences of the public discovering the true nature of the incident. This would likely lead to a massive wave of anti-American sentiment and put Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak in an extremely awkward situation.

Obama must have felt relieved at the South Korean president's ready acceptance of his offer of compensation. One article carried in the April 14 edition of Joong Ang Ilbo was headlined "Veep Biden Says LMB [Lee Myung-bak] Is Obama's Favorite Man". The comment was made by Biden on April 12, one day before the nuclear summit.

Sharp unexpectedly attended the April 3 funeral of a South Korean rescue diver, Han Ju Ho, who died while participating in the search for missing sailors from the corvette. Sharp was seen consoling the bereaved family in an unprecedented expression of sympathy.

Joong Ang Ilbo reported on April 27 that the South Korean government would deal strictly with rumors rampant on the Internet that a collision with a US nuclear submarine had caused the sinking.

The best solution is for the South Korean government team investigating the ship disaster to find an old mine responsible. It is easy to falsely accuse North Korea, but public pressure will mount for military reprisals against North Korea, which will promptly react by turning Seoul into a sea of fire in less than five minutes. North Korea would not flinch from using nuclear arms in the event of US involvement.....

Old hand points new finger of blame in KOREA....
By Donald Kirk

QUANTICO, Virginia - North Korea has found an advocate in a most unlikely place for its claim of innocence in the sinking of the South Korean corvette the Cheonan on March 26. How about the former chairman and president of the Korea Society, a forum in New York for cultural events, news analyses and policy discussions that's funded in large measure by South Korean conglomerates and the government in Seoul?

That would be Donald P Gregg, a former US Central Intelligence Agency officer who was ambassador to South Korea during the presidency of George H W Bush from 1989 to 1993 after having served him faithfully as his national security adviser during his eight years as vice president. In an op-ed article in The New York Times, Gregg takes seriously a Russian report that the Cheonan somehow "dredged up a mine that then blew the ship up".

Never mind that the waters were too deep for the ship to have hit bottom and no old mine could have split it in two and sunk it in minutes. Instead Gregg pours cold water on the South Korean investigation in which experts from the US and four other countries concurred that the Cheonan could only have been blown in two that way by a torpedo fired by a submarine. "Details of the South Korean investigation of the Cheonan tragedy have not been made public," he writes, forgetting the detailed summary released in May and a complete report already scrutinized by diplomats and journalists.

The real bottom line, which the Chinese and North Koreans will love, is that Gregg holds the US and South Korea responsible for making matters worse. Between them, he says, these two are driving North Korea's leader Kim Jong-il and son and heir presumptive Kim Jong-eun into the arms of the dreaded Chinese, who, bless them, are "far more worried by instability on the Korean Peninsula" than by a nuclear-armed North Korea.

Blame the headstrong Americans and South Koreans, then, for making matters ever worse by wanting to sharpen skills in anti-submarine warfare when, if Gregg's judgment is at all credible, no one knows if a submarine was anywhere near the Cheonan when it went down "under mysterious circumstances".

Given this view, Gregg is no doubt all the more upset by the prospect of two American guided-missile destroyers, a fast-attack submarine and anti-submarine aircraft joining South Korean warships next week in exercises in the Yellow Sea near where the Cheonan was sunk with a loss of the lives of 46 sailors. American ships have been in the Yellow Sea before, but not in such force since the sinking of the Cheonan - and not since the Chinese on any number of levels decried any American naval presence in those waters as a real and immediate threat to the Chinese mainland.

The American entry into the Yellow Sea comes at a critical moment in a pattern of rising tensions in which North Korea, for reasons that have nothing to do with the Cheonan, is falling inexorably under Chinese protection. Kim Jong-il's failing health adds urgency to the quest for massive Chinese aid and investment - and the need to be sure that Chinese leaders will accept Kim Jong-eun as his successor when the North's Workers' Party anoints him, as expected, at an extraordinary session later this month.

Those overwhelming concerns rendered last week's visit to Pyongyang by Jimmy Carter, the former American president, a minor matter. Kim had no trouble fobbing Carter off on his number two, Kim Yong-nam, while running off on an elaborately planned visit across the Yalu River into northeastern China.

Nor was the Dear Leader forced into the role of a mendicant. President Hu Jintao spared him that embarrassment by arriving from Beijing to meet Kim in between visits to the historic haunts of his father, the late Great Leader Kim Il-sung. The whole show, obviously scripted well in advance, relegated Carter's "humanitarian" mission to bring home an American jailbird to the level of a minor nuisance.

This display of Chinese solidarity with poor North Korea, all the more pitiable after floods again ravaged land stripped bare by deforestation, no doubt helped to compensate for the US decision to strengthen economic sanctions - or, as Gregg put it, "sanctions and hostility" that he believed would have "little positive impact".

Gregg did not, of course find it necessary to mention that the strengthened sanctions targeted, among other things, the infamous "Bureau 39", the agency directly responsible for shipping arms, drugs, counterfeit currency and nuclear components and technology far and wide. Rather, his main concern seemed to be that such rudeness would instill "mistrust and hostility" in Kim Jong-eun at a time when the US should have been inviting the kid, still in his 20s and not confirmed to have been photographed since his school days in Switzerland, over to Washington for a getting-to-know-you visit.

Not that "strengthened" sanctions will have that much impact. It does strain credibility to think that father Jong-il and son Jong-eun will suffer from the loss of beloved luxury items of which the sanctions also are intended to deprive them. Those designer sunglasses that the Dear Leader wears on visits to factories and farms should be available along with most everything else in his personal inventory from across the Chinese border. On a larger level, China should also be able to come to the rescue in cases in which economic measures pose a real inconvenience by blacklisting funds frozen in US institutions or banning firms from doing business with firms in cahoots with the North.

As North Korea moves closer to China, however, another danger emerges. China and North Korea now are pressing for the same six-party talks on its nuclear weapons that North Korea had been refusing to attend before the sinking of the Cheonan. Calls for a return to the table parallel rising rhetoric about "all-out war".

That's good news to Gregg, who finds "a growing realization in Washington that alienating China is an inordinately high price to pay for putting pressure on Pyongyang".

Gregg has a soul mate in the form of Jack Pritchard, a former US negotiator with North Korea who's now president of the Korea Economic Institute, an arm of the South Korean government in Washington. "North Korea has no intention of giving up nuclear weapons," Pritchard said at an all-day conference at Marine Corps University in Quantico. But "we have to engage the Chinese" and "hope they will at least take measures" to implement sanctions imposed after North Korea's second nuclear test in May of last year.

Others at the conference saw China in quite a different light. "China's reaction to military exercises reflected China's sense as 'the center of the world'," said Chun Song-whun, senior research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul. "One day, who knows, China might attack the new US base at Pyongtaek," the Yellow Sea port at which the US is consolidating its headquarters and other forces in South Korea. "It's going to be a strategic hub. China might see the base as a threat to the gateway to Tientsin and Beijing."

To Gregg's dismay, President Barack Obama has seemed less willing to compromise than did his predecessor, George W Bush, whom Gregg often compared unfavorably to his father but who did take North Korea off the US list of "terrorist" states. If Gregg's ambivalence on the Cheonan means anything, however, it is that Washington will want to compromise again. The ultimate South Korean fear has always been that of betrayal at the table. "Engagement based on wishful thinking is worse than compromise," said Chun.

In a showdown, "China could be a terrible stumbling block to security and verification," said Kim Doug-joong, professor at the South's Kyonggi University. Meanwhile, he said, "the loss of 46 sailors in the Cheonan incident should be the last casualty of the confrontation of the two Koreas."

Donald Kirk, a long-time journalist in Asia, is author of the newly published Korea Betrayed: Kim Dae Jung and Sunshine.