Though details remain sketchy, in March a North Korean submarine apparently torpedoed and sank a South Korean warship. Some 46 crewman were killed.
A South Korean commission investigating the incident (assisted by a team of international forensic experts) "collected"part of a torpedo propeller" (with North Korean markings) which pretty much establishes the evidence that a torpedo was the weapon that sank the ship.
On Sunday, May 23, 2010,"A new American intelligence analysis"concludes Kim Jong-il, the ailing leader of North Korea, must have authorized the torpedo assault." The American officials believe Kim ordered the attack but, "We can't say it is an established fact."
North Korea has denied sinking of the ship. Of course North Korean denials only heighten the condemnation of them by South Korea and now Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wants to initiate an international response to force "consequences" on the reclusive North Korean regime.
To this observer naming Kim as the one who authorized the sinking (without conclusive evidence) is inflammatory and coupled with Clinton's call for "consequences" on the regime is unnecessarily raising tensions. Are we trying to provoke Kim and the North into a hot war? Does this sinking constitute an international incident? The sinking occurred in disputed waters (of the two Koreas). There have been other naval skirmishes particularly one in November 2009 where "a North Korean ship was heavily damaged" (by South Korean naval forces) with an uncertain number of North Korean casualties" to which the North vowed retaliation. Is it implausible to conclude that the South Korean warship torpedoed and sunk in March was a tit for tat response by the North for the perceived South Korean "victory" in November?
"The two Koreas have more than a million troops on their border." The idea of naval incident in disputed waters could escalate into a major confrontation is absurd and must be avoided.
To this writer, China has exhibited the proper restraint with regard to this incident by not overreacting and not taking sides. As the North's major trade partner (along with South Korea) and its only ally that keeps North Korea from starvation, with a long border and fearful of being inundated with a massive influx of refugees should the North's regime implode if a major conflict erupted between the two Korea's, it has a vested interest in preventing a major confrontation.
Thus it is not helpful that U.S. intelligence analysts name Kim as the perpetrator (with no evidence) and Secretary Clinton is renewing a drumbeat for possible new sanctions against the North and calling for "consequences" to be exacted on the North. This only serves as a taunt to an already paranoid regime and to renew its bluster of "all out war" breaking out if there is a military retaliation over the sinking of the South Korean warship.
In consequence of all the heated rhetoric, it may be helpful to consider the following:
Why is this naval incident in disputed waters of the two Koreas considered an international incident? These incidents are like neighborhood turf battles among rival gangs, not a cause for international engagement (and in particular the U.S.)
North Korea is basically contained.
It has nuclear weapons but these are deterrent weapons, not offensive weapons.
What can North Korea benefit by initiating an all out war with South Korea? China of 2010 is not the China of Mao in 1950, whose army along with the North Koreans invaded the South.
A single incident does not constitute the opening salvo for war, particularly when it's not followed by further escalation of war like activity i.e. invasion, blockade or a state of siege. Nothing like this has occurred.
This is a neighborhood conflict that needs to be reconciled by those in that neighborhood (the South and the North with China as neutral mediator (and with the U.S. confined to the sidelines exhibiting some much needed "benign neglect").