[Viewpoint] Let’s choose our weapon
Korea has three means by which it can retaliate for the loss of the Cheonan: sanctions, a lawsuit or a blockade.
Nearly a month has passed since the Navy corvette Cheonan sank, but regrettably, we have produced controversies and speculation about the cause of the tragedy, rather than proof. But what has come to light makes it increasingly obvious that the sinking was caused not by an internal malfunction but by an external attack. If that is indeed the case, what should the government have done, and what actions should it take from now on?
In international law, the United Nations Charter’s Article 51 provides that a state has the “inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs.” The right of self-defense was first exercised by the United States in 1837, when the British attacked the American steamer Caroline, which American sympathizers had been using to provide supplies and arms to Canadian rebels. The British killed two Americans and destroyed the steamer, leading the United States to counterattack in self-defense.
After the Caroline affair, many countries ensured the security of the state by exercising the right of self-defense. Since self-defense is, in essence, an instant, temporary response to an urgent, immediate armed attack, it is regrettable that Korea could not have exercised that right immediately after the Cheonan was sunk. Who on earth is willing to make a direct attack on the Korean warship?
The Korean Peninsula is not at peace but at truce. The cease-fire agreement signed in 1953 states that the truce completely halts all hostile actions and the use of armed forces, effectively prohibiting any form of armed hostility on the Korean Peninsula.
The Cheonan incident, an act of hostility, is a clear violation of the truce. When a clearly hostile action has been made against Korea, Seoul’s response is also obvious. So what should Korea do in the future?
The first possible option is to take action through an international organization. Today, the United Nations Security Council is the apparatus that takes the primary responsibility to maintain international peace and security. In order to execute the objective, the United Nations gives the Security Council the authority to identify threats against peace and the presence of destructive or aggressive acts and to take all measures needed, including military action.
Therefore, Korea needs to bring the Cheonan case to the UN Security Council immediately and ask the international community to enforce sanctions and restrictive measures while it resolves the civil compensation issue associated with the tragedy.
Bringing the case to the UN Security Council would be an action suitable for a country of Korea’s status within the international community. In order for such sanctions to materialize, nine council members, including five permanent members, must support the measure according to the voting procedure of the Security Council. Realistically, the attitude of China and Russia, two of the permanent members, might pose a problem.
The second option is taking steps under international law. The UN Charter provides that in case of a conflict that could jeopardize international peace and security, an aggrieved party can use all available measures for peaceful resolution.
When resolution through dialogue is not possible, the nation can pursue resolution through more coercive means, such as by instituting a lawsuit with the International Court of Justice.
If Korea’s demands are not accepted, we might need to consider resolving the conflict through an international trial. Unlike a domestic lawsuit, an international trial does not require the accused party to make an appearance unless the country approves the jurisdiction of the court before or after the case.
As a provision, we can consider indirectly pressuring the other side by having the UN General Assembly or the Security Council propose a resolution urging our opponent to accept the jurisdiction.
The third option is a maritime blockade, which would use naval forces to cut off all marine transportation to an enemy state. Considering that the Korean Peninsula is in the state of cease-fire, a blockade is a possible response. In fact, the United States considered a military attack when the Soviet Union installed nuclear missiles in Cuba in 1962, but decided to lower the intensity of its course of action and blockaded the Cuban coasts.
We have all longed to become an advanced and developed nation. When people have a conviction that the nation would use all measures to safeguard the citizens and the state when they are in danger, the nation is truly advanced and the citizens will love and be proud of it.
When will Koreans be confident that the nation will protect them? When young Koreans no longer have to sacrifice their lives? How far has Korea come in terms of international stature?
*Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
The writer is a professor of international law at Inha University.
By Kim Hyun-soo