[Viewpoint] The real test begins nowTwo months have passed since a Navy ship was blasted apart and sank in waters near the maritime border off our western coast, yet the country is still in a state of shock and rage.
President Lee Myung-back in his address to the nation on Monday sent a clear and resolute message to North Korea on how the country plans to respond to the attack on the Cheonan as well as future provocations.
We now have to put the strong-worded statement into concrete steps to make North Korea pay the price for their murderous act. We should prove to the international community as well as ourselves how different we are from North Korea in the way we manage and manifest our anger.
The president’s message in his address must be translated into action with a meticulous road map and time frame to achieve the maximum effect. Clarity and forthrightness are essential to take the helm in reining in the tension on the peninsula created by the North Koreans.
A crisis, like a parabola, tends to pan out. For a long time, North Koreans have whipped up tension on this soil at their liberty and after a while found an opportunity for dialogue, reaping rewards as a result.
They have repeated the pattern of brinkmanship, escalating tension in our society.
But now we must show them we have the whip hand on Korean affairs.
Most of the security and defense responses to the Cheonan sinking need a certain period to be readied. There is a danger of our resolution weakening during this period and North Korea may be watching and waiting to exploit it.
We therefore should accelerate actions we are capable of carrying out on our own to pressure North Korea while continuing to seek diplomatic pressure on states that can potentially support North Korea amid toughened sanctions.
For example, we can get a start on psychological warfare in several areas and then expand the campaign when preparations are ready in other areas. We must strike North Korea where it hurts at this sensitive period.
We can also consider anti-submarine and naval exercises on our own - without American forces - in the western sea.
Such moves would send a strong message that the South will no longer tolerate the North’s provocations, and at the same time assure our population that the military has the capacity to deter and overwhelm North Korea, even after its blunders with the Cheonan sinking.
An incessant series of our own military actions followed by joint measures with the United States and supplemented with international pressure can confound and unsettle North Korea.
The government should at the same time enhance communication with the public.
We already learned two years ago that exaggerated rumors and creative conspiracy theories can severely affect and divide our national consensus.
The government should explain to the public how the rumors and doubts about the Cheonan investigation are wrong - clearly, logically and calmly. It must strive to marshal support from everyone, including traditional political opponents, through campaigning and research efforts.
Also, the government needs to prepare a type of “exit” policy for an aggressive policy toward North Korea.
We should be clear to the North as well as the international community what we want to achieve from our responses to the Cheonan sinking and on what terms we will be willing to wind down the policy.
An exit policy will help prevent a fragmentation of the international coalition against North Korea and keep Seoul in control of the situation until it attains its final goal.
The enemy will be most surprised upon realizing that he has sown the wrong seeds by starting the provocation and instead reaped a whirlwind.
We must teach North Korea a lesson as to what a big mistake it made and show how calm, meticulous, and persistent South Korean society can be in reaction. The real test in risk control over the Cheonan crisis begins now.
*The writer is a senior researcher at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
By Cha Doo-hyun