Pyongyang sees US role in Cheonan sinking
By Kim Myong Chol
Despite its strong denial of any involvement and expressions of sympathy for
lost fellow Koreans, fingers are being pointed at North Korea over the tragic
sinking of the 1,200-ton South Korean corvette Cheonan in the West Sea
or Yellow Sea on the night of March 26.
"A North Korean torpedo attack was the most likely cause for the sinking of a
South Korean warship last month," an unnamed US military official told CNN on
April 26. Up to 46 of the ship's 104 sailors were killed in the sinking.
Apparently, North Korea is being set up as the fall guy in an incident that is
so mysterious that a Los Angeles Times April 26 story datelined Seoul was
headlined, "James Bond Theories Arise in Korean Ship Sinking".
So far, no hard evidence has been produced linking North Korea
to the disaster. However, this has not stopped media and experts from holding
the North responsible. The South Korean daily Chosun Ilbo wrote on April 29,
"It is difficult to imagine a country other than North Korea launching a
torpedo attack against a South Korean warship."
Revealing circumstantial evidence
Is it possible that North Korea carried out the daring act of torpedoing a
South Korean corvette participating in a US-South Korean war exercise? The
answer is a categorical no. The circumstantial evidence is quite
revealing, showing who is the more likely culprit.
There are four important points that make it clear that a North Korean
submarine did not sink the South Korean corvette.
Fact 1.North Korean submarines are not stealthy enough to
penetrate heavily guarded South Korean waters at night and remain undetected by
the highly touted anti-submarine warfare units of the American and South Korean
forces. A North Korean submarine would be unable to outmaneuver an awesome
array of high-tech Aegis warships, identify the corvette Cheonan and
then slice it in two with a torpedo before escaping unscathed, leaving no trace
of its identity.
Fact 2. The sinking took place not in North Korean waters but
well inside tightly guarded South Korean waters, where a slow-moving North
Korean submarine would have great difficulty operating covertly and safely,
unless it was equipped with AIP (air-independent propulsion) technology.
Fact 2: The disaster took place precisely in the waters where
what the Pentagon has called "one of the world's largest simulated exercises"
was underway. This war exercise, known as "Key Resolve/Foal Eagle" did not end
on March 18 as was reported but actually ran from March 18 to April 30.
Fact 3: The Key Resolve/Foal Eagle exercise on the West Sea near
the Northern Limit Line (NLL) was aimed at keeping a more watchful eye on North
Korea as well as training for the destruction of weapons of mass destruction in
the North. It involved scores of shiny, ultra-modern US and South Korean
warships equipped with the latest technology.
Among the fleet were four Aegis ships: the USS Shiloh (CG-67), a
9,600-ton Ticonderoga class cruiser, the USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG-54), a
6,800-ton Arleigh Burke class guided-missile destroyer, the USS Lassen,
a 9,200-ton Arleigh Burke class guided-missile destroyer and Sejong the Great,
a 8,500-ton South Korean guided-missile destroyer.
The four surface ships are the most important assets of the two navies, and
have multi-mission platforms capable of conducting various tasks, such as
anti-submarine warfare. There is every likelihood that they were supported by
nuclear-powered US submarines and a South Korean "Type 214" submarine that uses
The sinking of the Cheonan has made headlines around the world. If
indeed it was a US accident, it is an embarrassing indictment of the accuracy
of the expensive weapons systems of the US, the world's leading arms exporter.
It has also cost the Americans credibility as the South's superpower guardian.
Ironically, this has made North Korean-made weapons more attractive on the
The South Koreans and the Americans charging the North Koreans with the sinking
of the naval vessel in South Korean waters only highlights the poor performance
of their expensive Aegis warships, as well as the futility of the US-South
Korean joint war games and the US military presence in Korea.
Fact 4: Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg said on March
30 that he doubted there was North Korean involvement in the sinking:
"Obviously the full investigation needs to go forward. But to my knowledge,
there's no reason to believe or to be concerned that that may have been the
General Walter Sharp, US Forces Korea (USFK) commander, also saw no link
between North Korea and the sinking. In an April 6 press conference, he said:
"We, as Combined Forces Command and the ROK [Republic of Korea] Joint Chief of
Staff, watch North Korea very closely every single day of the year and we
continue to do that right now. And again, as this has been said, we see no
unusual activity at this time."
No motivation for vengeance
There have been misplaced reports that the sinking was an act of retaliation
for a naval skirmish in November last year "in which the North came off worse",
as reported by the Times of London on April 22.
As a North Korean navy officer, Kim Gwang-il, recalled on North Korean
television on Armed Forces Day, April 25: "[In that incident] a warship of our
navy single-handedly faced up to several enemy warships, to guard the NLL ...
[The North's warship] inflicted merciless blows on them in a show of the might
of the heroic Korean People's Army (KPA) Navy."
The first duty of the KPA is to prevent war while jealously safeguarding the
territorial air, sea and land of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, as
this safeguards the peace and security of the Korean Peninsula.
The Korean People's Army Navy would not attack South Korean or American
warships unless provoked, since these vessels carry innocent soldiers on the
high seas. True, the KPA Navy would be justified in torpedoing a US Aegis ship
or a nuclear-powered submarine if one were caught red-handed. But the KPA Navy
would not stoop to infringing on South Korean waters to attack a South Korean
ship at random, unless it had returned there after committing hostile acts
against North Korea.
Seven facts indicate friendly fire as the most likely cause of the naval
disaster. It may be no exaggeration to say that the South Korean president and
his military leaders have shed crocodile tears over the dead South Korean
A torpedo could have been launched from any of the American or South Korean
warships or warplanes taking part in the Foal Eagle exercise alongside the
The four Aegis ships and most South Korean warships carry Mark 46 torpedoes,
which have improved shallow-water performance for anti-submarine warfare and
General Sharp had issued on March 4 a five-point safety message warning that "a
single accident can undermine the training benefits you will receive during
KR/FE '10. Remain vigilant and engaged."
It appears that Sharp's warning came true, and the US repeated the kind of
friendly fire incident for which it is notorious in Iraq and Afghanistan.
After the ship disaster happened on the night of March 26, Sharp promptly cut a
visit to Washington to testify at congress to fly back to Seoul, according to
the March 30 edition of Kyonggi Ilbo.
President Barack Obama then called his South Korean counterpart on April 1,
ostensibly to express condolences over the ship disaster, but also to offer him
the privilege of hosting the next nuclear security summit in 2012, as was
reported by Joong Ang Ilbo on April 14.
Obama made this offer one week before he and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev
signed a nuclear arms reduction treaty in Prague, and two weeks before the 2010
nuclear security summit took place in Washington.
When Obama announced his decision to select South Korea as host of the next
major nuclear security summit in 2012, Agence France-Presse reported that "the
announcement surprised many". Most observers presumed that Russia would lead
the next meeting.
The most plausible explanation is that Obama offered South Korea the summit due
to an overriding need to mollify otherwise possible South Korean resentment at
the friendly fire sinking, while covering up the US's involvement in a friendly
fire torpedo attack. Most probably, Sharp reported to Obama the potentially
disastrous consequences of the public discovering the true nature of the
incident. This would likely lead to a massive wave of anti-American sentiment
and put Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak in an extremely awkward
Obama must have felt relieved at the South Korean president's ready acceptance
of his offer of compensation. One article carried in the April 14 edition of
Joong Ang Ilbo was headlined "Veep Biden Says LMB [Lee Myung-bak] Is Obama's
Favorite Man". The comment was made by Biden on April 12, one day before the
Sharp unexpectedly attended the April 3 funeral of a South Korean rescue diver,
Han Ju Ho, who died while participating in the search for missing sailors from
the corvette. Sharp was seen consoling the bereaved family in an unprecedented
expression of sympathy.
Joong Ang Ilbo reported on April 27 that the South Korean government would deal
strictly with rumors rampant on the Internet that a collision with a US nuclear
submarine had caused the sinking.
The best solution is for the South Korean government team investigating the
ship disaster to find an old mine responsible. It is easy to falsely accuse
North Korea, but public pressure will mount for military reprisals against
North Korea, which will promptly react by turning Seoul into a sea of fire in
less than five minutes. North Korea would not flinch from using nuclear arms in
the event of US involvement.
Kim Myong Chol is author of a number of books and papers in Korean,
Japanese and English on North Korea, including Kim Jong-il's Strategy for
Reunification. He has a PhD from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea's
Academy of Social Sciences and is often called an "unofficial" spokesman of Kim
Jong-il and North Korea.