[VIEWPOINT]Do not waffle on provocative actsWhen the entire country was cheering the World Cup games, North Korean naval forces committed an armed provocation. The attack is more serious considering that it was committed at a time marking the two-year anniversary of the summit between leaders of the two Koreas and the joint announcement made on June 15, 2000. North Korea had insisted on strict adherence to the declaration, but it clearly demonstrated in action that it would not yield to the South in its military stance and strategy. The North acted on its military principle of maximizing effects of an offensive through surprise attacks at every opportunity.
Looking at this incident, the North Korean military had been preparing to take revenge for the North's defeat in a naval clash off Yeonpyeong Island in June 1999. If it finds a North Korean fishing boat or warship along the Northern Limit Line, the South Korean Navy follows rules of engagement, which start with an announcement of a warning, blocking the North Korean ship's route, gunfire as a warning and then destruction of the intruder.
In the most recent incident, a South Korean naval speedboat warned a North Korean warship to retreat from the NLL, but the North Korean warship continued to move southward. When the speedboat sailed to block the warship's route, the warship fired an 80-millimeter gun, aiming at the vital parts of the South Korean speedboat. The incident is an extension of the North Korean military's constant provocation. In June 2001, a large number of North Korean merchant ships repeatedly breached the NLL and South Korean shores. This year, when Korea and the world were enjoying the World Cup, the North challenged the NLL by using its naval force.
A lesson from this incident is that there is still a high chance of military clashes in the Korean peninsula. National safety and peace are still uncertain in Korea. There has been progress in political and economic reconciliation and collaboration because of the South's sunshine policy, but it has not resulted in military reconciliation and cooperation. In December 2000, the Ministry of National Defense designated North Korea as the main enemy and said that the armed threat from the North is still intact. The reality in the Korean peninsula lies here. General Thomas Schwarz, a former commander of United States Forces Korea, once said North Korea's military threat has become bigger, stronger, closer, and more fatal. The North Korean Army is still being trained to defeat the South. Thus, evaluating the North's military threat, one should not dilute a true nature of the threat with political rhetoric. The South Korean force should upgrade the rules of engagement in cooperation with the United States Forces in Korea to thwart the North's attempt to breach the NLL.
The South Korean Army belatedly eliminated the first step of the rules of engagement －－ a verbal warning through a loudspeaker －－ and made the rules simpler. But the army should be trained as well for an immediate, full-scale counterattack against the North. We should firmly support the position that peaceful unification will be derived from freedom and democracy based on thorough military preparation. We know from history that even highly advanced military systems can be useless unless soldiers have a solid mentality and an accurate recognition of the enemy.
Since the attack occurred during the World Cup games, we should rebuke the North together with peace-loving citizens around the world. We should come up with more organized punitive measures rather than just insisting on an apology and a promise to prevent a reccurrence. Since the North Korean Navy's provocation violates the sprit of the June 15 joint declaration, the government should ask Kim Jong-il to find and reprimand those responsible and request an official apology and a promise to respect the NLL. The government should make the North clearly understand that the next intrusion will be subject to strong retaliation by the South Korean Navy.
The government should retaliate against the North, which violated the most important principle of South Korea's North Korean policy －－ not to accept North Korea's armed provocation.
The writer is a professor at the Korea National Defense University.
by Han Yong-sub