[Viewpoint] Unprepared for an act of war

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[Viewpoint] Unprepared for an act of war

The sinking of the Cheonan has spread confusion and ignited a national security controversy. This was not a simple accident, but a tragedy that resulted in great casualties among both the crew of the sunken corvette and their rescuers. It is also an event of great significance that could ratchet up military tension between South and North Korea.

As Korean citizens watch the case and mourn for the sailors who went missing or died because of the incident, we cannot help but feel concerned about the responses of the government and the military. We are worried about whether there is a serious unguarded spot in the defense preparedness of the Korean military, or even a defect in the military system in general.

So we desperately hope that no further tragedies will happen and that the government would impose thorough consequences against whoever is responsible for the unprecedented incident.

One of the most likely causes for the sinking of the Cheonan is a torpedo attack. Unlike a mine, a torpedo is a weapon directly fired at a target. The question is who fired a torpedo at the Cheonan and why.

Submarines that belong to different nations operate in the waters around the Korean Peninsula. But considering that the United States and our neighbors have no reason to launch a torpedo at a Korean naval vessel, the culprit is obvious.

According to an announcement by the Ministry of Defense, three or four North Korean submarines left base in the days before and after the incident, and two of them have not been accounted for. This report increases the probability that the Cheonan was sunk by a North Korean submarine. However, that theory is not supported by solid evidence. Therefore, at this point, it is most critical for the government and the military to find some clear, undeniable evidence to prove a military provocation by North Korea.

If it is proven that the naval vessel sank due to a North Korean torpedo attack, then it will be a clear military provocation and an act of war. After we understand the grave nature of the case in its entirety, we must retaliate using all available means.

Most of all, we need to re-examine our military’s defense readiness and come up with a complete plan to prevent any similar incident in the future, as the military has demonstrated a less-than-satisfactory operational response to the sinking of the Cheonan, proving how far it has drifted from its claim of perfect preparedness.

Considering the divided state of the country, a North Korean provocation might lead to a more intense military clash than the sinking of the Cheonan, and even develop into a possible war. If such a military clash were to erupt after the transfer of wartime operational control and the dissolution of the Korea-U.S. joint command scheduled in April 2012, we cannot expect optimal results at our present level of military strength.

Taking the circumstances into account, the best way to defend the security of Korea is through maintaining a solid alliance and cooperation with the United States, which has the strongest armed forces in the world.

Therefore, we ought to demand the reconsideration of the transfer of wartime operational control and the dissolution of the Korea-U.S. joint command until the Korean military is equipped with a flawless response capacity.

Meanwhile, we need to address the leak of military secrets and the spread of ill-intended rumors in cyberspace. While handling the case, the military made the mistake of releasing important military secrets in an effort to deal with public misinformation and to respond to the media’s intense demands.

The government also failed to take action against some politicians and Internet users who spread groundless rumors and misled the public. These two problems also undermine national security. Therefore, the government needs to prepare plans to keep military secrets safe and seek legal methods to control vicious psychological warfare.

The exact cause of the sinking can only be determined when the sunken vessel is pulled up, so we need to trust the military authorities for the moment and wait patiently.

The military is a group that puts their lives on the line to defend the nation. If we do not trust the military, who else can we trust? Meanwhile, the media and citizens should bear in mind the wisdom that national security can only be maintained when we are united.

The sinking of the Cheonan might be a warning that we need to rebuild our national security structure from the ground up. While we reaffirm the importance of national security, we should establish a solid national defense readiness.

*The writer is the president of the Korean Veterans Association.

By Park Se-hwan
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