The Cheonan remembered

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The Cheonan remembered

Today marks the fifth anniversary of the tragic sinking of our Cheonan warship near the tense maritime border in the Yellow Sea. Despite the massive loss of lives and the shock from the destruction of the patrol ship five years ago today, our security situation has hardly improved and our security and military posture still exposes critical flaws.

We have seen almost no conventional type of military provocation since the Cheonan attack and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island the following November. But that should not make us sanguine. North Korea conducted cyberterror attacks on South Korea’s government, its financial institutions, news media and public corporations several times, including hacking into the systems of a Korean nuclear plant. It also hacked Sony Pictures’ U.S. unit. Contrary to the United States’ swift retaliation, our government fell short of holding the North accountable for its cyberterror attacks.

Korea does not understand the severity of the threat. After a joint international investigation team found that the North was behind the Cheonan attack, parliaments of advanced countries like the United States, the European Union and Japan all denounced the North for its violence against a warship on a routine patrol. Yet North Korea refuses to admit responsibility or apologize for the sinking. Yesterday, the North went so far as to assert that the Cheonan attack was fabricated by Uncle Sam to heighten security concerns in Northeast Asia.

After the Cheonan and Yeonpyeong incidents, South Korea reinforced its military capability by launching the Northwest Islands Defense Command and introducing Israel’s Spike anti-tank guided missile. It conducts large-scale drills in the region annually. However, mental preparedness has a long way to go compared with developments in the hardware. For instance, two former Navy chiefs of staff were arrested for corruption in military procurement. The absence of military tension for a while led to lax morale in the military, as seen in endless sexual abuse, drinking, violence and irregularities. Lately, even a rear admiral and vice admiral were referred to the disciplinary committee for taking inappropriate action toward a golf caddy at a course inside Jinhae Naval base.

The liberals refused to see the Cheonan attack for what it was. In June 2010, the Democratic Party opposed a legislative resolution denouncing the sinking. But yesterday, the chairman of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy, the descendent of the Democratic Party, Moon Jae-in, said, “We warn Pyongyang that we cannot allow any type of military threats and provocations.” Though belated, that’s a desirable change in the opposition’s attitudes toward security issues.

To honor the 46 sailors lost in the Cheonan attack five years ago, today must be a reminder of the importance of national security.

JoongAng Ilbo, Mar. 26, Page 30

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