Seoul Ready to Invoke Self-defense against Future N. Korea Provocation
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- In response to a North Korean torpedo attack on one of its warships, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said on May 24 that the country will immediately resort to self-defense measures against any additional provocations by the North, asserting that the socialist regime will pay for the sinking, which killed 46 sailors.
President Lee said countermeasures against Pyongyang will include taking it to the U.N. Security Council, suspending inter-Korean exchanges and banning North Korean ships from passing through its waters.
"North Korea will pay a price corresponding to its provocative acts. I will continue to take stern measures to hold the North accountable," Lee said in a nationally televised speech to the public, days after an international team of experts concluded that South Korea's 1,200-ton corvette Cheonan was torpedoed by its wartime rival.
"From now on, the Republic of Korea (ROK/ South Korea) will not tolerate any provocative act by the North and will maintain a principle of proactive deterrence," the president said in a resolute tone during an address made at the War Memorial of Korea in central Seoul. "If our territorial waters, airspace or territory are militarily violated, we will immediately exercise our right of self-defense."
President Lee, calling cooperation with Pyongyang "meaningless," said it will also put trade and exchanges between the two Koreas on hold, although it plans to continue its humanitarian aid to Pyongyang. Lee said DPRK (North Korea)-flagged ships will no longer be allowed to pass through any shipping lanes in South Korean waters, a short-cut previously permitted under the Inter-Korean Agreement on Maritime Transportation.
"We have always tolerated North Korea's brutality, time and again. We did so because we have always had a genuine longing for peace on the Korean Peninsula," President Lee said. "But now things are different. North Korea will pay a price." Lee said South Korea was prepared to defend against any future provocations.
"I solemnly urge North Korean authorities to do the following: Apologize immediately to the Republic of Korea and the international community. Immediately punish those who are responsible for and those who are involved in the incident," he added, using South Korea's official name.
Following the presidential announcement, the foreign, defense and unification ministers held a joint news conference, revealing their retaliatory measures against North Korea.
South Korea's first military countermeasures against Pyongyang include launching its own anti-proliferation exercise and resuming psychological warfare against North Korea, said Defense Minister Kim Tae-young. "Starting today, we will resume the psychological warfare against North Korea, which has been suspended for six years," Kim said.
The minister said the South Korean military will expand participation in international interdiction training as a member of the Proliferation Security Initiative aimed at curbing the spread of weapons of massive destruction.
The two Koreas agreed in 2004 to stop all propaganda activities along the inter-Korean border and to prevent accidental clashes in the Yellow Sea. The ministry will also fly propaganda leaflets into the North. "In the nearest future, the U.S. and South Korean militaries will jointly hold an anti-submarine drill in the Yellow Sea," Kim said.
Unification Minister Hyun In-taek disclosed five additional retaliatory steps. First is the prohibition of North Korean vessels from sailing in the South's waters, previously allowed under an inter-Korean maritime pact signed in 2004. Second is to prohibit general trade between the two Koreas, as well as all inbound and outbound shipments of goods and materials for processing on commission.
Third, the government will not allow citizens to visit North Korea "with the exception of necessary visits" to Kaesong and a troubled joint mountain resort on the east coast, the minister said. The Mt. Kumgang resort has been inactive since a South Korean tourist was shot to death by a North Korean guard in July 2008. Fourth, "new investment in North Korea will be prohibited," Hyun said, adding that the number of South Koreans in Kaesong industrial complex will be scaled down.
Last, the minister said humanitarian aid to North Korea will be suspended "in principle" but did not rule out "pure" aid that seeks to help infants and children.
Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan reiterated Seoul's plan of bringing the matter to the U.N. Security Council and bolstering international cooperation to inflict sanctions on the North. Calling the North attack "a direct threat and challenge to peace and stability, not only on the Korean Peninsula, but also in Northeast Asia and beyond," Yu said the government has launched an aggressive diplomatic campaign to punish the North.
On May 25, President Lee said the South Korean military needs to articulate who its main adversary is, giving indications that Seoul will put the label back on North Korea following a torpedo attack on a South Korean warship in March.
"Our military failed to clarify the notion of the main enemy for the past ten years," Lee said at a meeting with senior opinion leaders including former prime ministers and National Assembly speakers, according to presidential spokesperson Kim Eun-hye.
The conservative president was apparently referring to a decade of liberal rule before he took office in early 2008. Conservatives accuse Lee's two predecessors -- Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun -- of ignoring the grim reality on the Korean Peninsula in seeking reconciliation with the socialist neighbor.
South Korean troops "have ignored threats under their feet and focused on potential threats outside of the Korean Peninsula," Lee was quoted as saying.
"As President Lee pointed out that the main enemy notion has not been clarified, from now on (the government) will review how to discuss the issue and put it in writing," the spokeswoman said, adding an update of Seoul's defense white paper will be published in the latter half of this year.
South Korea first used the term "main enemy" to describe North Korea in its defense white paper in 1995 after a North Korean official threatened to turn Seoul into a "sea of fire" during military talks between the two sides a year earlier.
Seoul toned down the expression in the biennial document starting in 2004, opting instead to define the North as a "direct military threat or existing military threat" in an apparent bid not to antagonize Pyongyang. Critics said such equivocal expression caused confusion in the military.
A multinational team of investigators concluded on May 20 that the 1,200-ton Cheonan was torpedoed on March 26 by a North Korea submarine that sneaked across the western sea border into the South. The investigators cited parts of a North Korean torpedo collected from the scene near the two sides' Yellow Sea border and other evidence.
The joint investigation team found "conclusive evidence" that the "No. 1" mark on the rear part of the torpedo collected from the sinking site is consistent with markings on a stray North Korean torpedo the South recovered seven years ago.
The results capped an investigation that also included forensic experts from the United States, Britain, Australia and Sweden to ensure the investigation's fairness. The underwater explosion occurred about three meters left of the center of the South Korean warship, investigators said, confirming a so-called "bubble jet effect" theory that a powerful water pillar created when the torpedo exploded sank the ship.
The head of the investigation team said the North Korean CHT-025 torpedo, with a net explosive weight of some 250 kilograms, was the weapon that sank the ship.
President Lee convened the National Security Council a day after a multinational investigation team announced the probe results. Lee instructed related ministries to take "systematic and resolute countermeasures against North Korea so that it cannot repeat this reckless provocation," the Chongwadae spokeswoman said.