Home / Robert Farley / Cheonan Incident Continues to Develop

Cheonan Incident Continues to Develop


South Korea is preparing to formally accuse North Korea of sinking the Cheonan:

South Korea will formally blame North Korea on Thursday for launching a torpedo at one of its warships in March, causing an explosion that killed 46 sailors and heightened tensions in one of the world’s most perilous regions, U.S. and East Asian officials said.

South Korea concluded that North Korea was responsible for the attack after investigators from Australia, Britain, Sweden and the United States pieced together portions of the ship at the port of Pyeongtaek, 40 miles southwest of Seoul. The Cheonan sank on March 26 after an explosion rocked the 1,200-ton vessel as it sailed on the Yellow Sea off South Korea’s west coast.

The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because South Korea has yet to disclose the findings of the investigation, said subsequent analysis determined that the torpedo was identical to a North Korean torpedo that South Korea had obtained.

Of the countries aiding South Korea in its inquiry, officials said that Sweden had been the most reluctant to go along with the findings but that when the evidence was amassed, it too agreed that North Korea was to blame. A spokesman for the Swedish Embassy declined to comment.

In spite of having some other things on the foreign policy plate, Obama has promised support for Seoul:

U.S. President Barack Obama expressed his full backing for South Korea and its investigation into the sinking of the Navy vessel Cheonan near the inter-Korean West Sea border, Cheong Wa Dae said Tuesday.

President Lee Myung-bak and Obama spoke over the phone for about 25 minutes earlier to discuss a joint response to the naval tragedy.

“Obama told Lee that he fully trusts Seoul and backs its handling of the incident,” the presidential office said in a press release.

Obama said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will fly to Seoul next week to discuss the case, adding the U.S. will closely cooperate with South Korea to deal with the aftermath. Clinton is scheduled to hold high-level meetings in Beijing from May 24 to 25.

Also, William Ruger and I have a short op-ed in the Korea Times on the need for a “Goldilocks solution” to the crisis.

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  • Vance Maverick

    There was a post in my RSS feed, about Foreign Policy, which didn’t show up here — glitch, or second thought?

  • blowback

    said subsequent analysis determined that the torpedo was identical to a North Korean torpedo that South Korea had obtained

    So South Korea has North Korean torpedos. So it is possible that the Cheonan was sunk by a North Korean torpedo fired from a South Korean sub. At the time of the Gulf of Tonkin incident, how many people in the West believed it never happened? None. So I am not surprised that Sweden is being cautious.

    As for the other parties involved in the investigation (Australia, Britain, and the United States) neither of the first two is independent of the last, in fact they are well known lackeys of the US who always do what they are told.

  • Robert Farley


    Indeed; I concede the possibility that South Korea has manufactured all of the evidence, and has convinced the United States, Britain, Australia, and even a reluctant Sweden to go along. Moreover, I concede the possibility that South Korea sank the Cheonan with a North Korean torpedo.

    I suppose my questions are these:

    1. What evidence would actually convince you that North Korea sank Cheonan with a North Korean torpedo?

    2. Which is more likely; that South Korea sank Cheonan with a North Korean torpedo, or that North Korea sank Cheonan with a North Korean torpedo?

    • blowback

      An admission of a “successful operation” by North Korea would satisfy me. Why wouldn’t the North Koreans want to publicize their “success”?

      I would say that is more likely that the North Koreans sank the Cheonan than South Korea but I can’t say that the evidence produced passes even the “balance of probability” test. I suspect that it is more likely that someone in the South Korean navy fucked up and then decided to cover up their failure by fabricating evidence to blame North Korea. Is this the first example of a “drop torpedo”?

      As to the investigation, it is hardly independent as it features American, British, Australians, Korean, Canadian and Swedish investigators. The only party that is remotely independent is the Swedish one but there have always been close links between the Swedish military and the US military. I would give more credit to the investigation if it had included say Brazilian, South African, Dubaians or even Lebanese (I can’t believe I’m saying this) investigators. The only party to the investigation that might not have lied in the recent past is probably the Swedish one and maybe the Korean one. The British are contaminated by their involvement in the run up to the Iraq war among others while the Americans are contaminated by the “Syrian SCUD to Hizbollah” claims, the Afghan schoolboy murders and “digging the bullets out of women” case among too many others.

      Reading the Wikipedia entry for this incident there are a number “controversies” reported:

      Korean Naval Tactical Data System, the digital system to track down every South Korean naval vessel, malfunctioned during the sinking incident.

      The ROK Ministry of Defense officially decided that it would not release the communication logs of the Cheonan to the public.

      The maritime area where the ship sank is dedicated solely to fishing and corvettes had not scouted there for many years.

      There are conflicting accounts between the Ministry of Defense, who claimed that the corvette sank rapidly in 20 minutes after the explosion, and the Coast Guard, which witnessed that it had continued afloat for over three hours.

      While the Ministry of Defense claimed that Cheonan was assigned to practice a new naval tactics, military experts, including a naval veteran who scouted around the Baengyeong island in the past, found this practice unfeasible for ships with over 1000 tonne of displacement to efficiently sail around the proximate littoral areas of the Baengnyeong island.

      Among other possibilities are that this was an unauthorized North Korean operation or an act of bravado by the captain of Choenan who decided to “flip the finger” at the North Koreans and the North Koreans administered a “good kicking”, which is why the Chinese do not appear particularly peturbed. If it’s the former, should North Korea be held responsible? Probably not. If it’s the latter, the person who should be punished should be the captain. I don’t know about Korean school playgrounds but certainly in British school playgrounds if you insult someone without “protection” of some kind, you are regarded as getting what you deserve if you are beaten up by the person you insulted.

      As to the South Korean response, perhaps they should write to the North Korean government thanking them for pointing out just how sloppy the South Korean navy had become and leave it at that.

      • blowback

        It is not just me or the other guy who are sceptical. From a South Korean newspaper site:

        Questions raised following Cheonan announcement

        I suppose The Hankyoreh could just be a North Korean front.

        BTW, why haven’t South Korea taken this to the ICJ? If the “evidence” is so overwhelming then they should do so. Or is it that the US either prefers not to validate the ICJ and some of its previous rulings or feels it can get a better result by a bit of political arm-twisting on the Security Council. Just why does the US appear to be deciding for South Korea what the South Koreans should do?

  • Some Guy

    One would also have to come up with a reason as to why South Korea would sink one of their own boats. The US has no interest in provoking a war with North Korea, even if we did have the capacity to get involved in a hot war with one of the largest and best entrenched armies on the planet.
    I find it hard to believe that South Korea would sink a ship in the hopes that the US would bomb Kim Jong’s summer home.

    I’m liking my, “panicked North Korean sub captain took a shot and ran” theory.

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  • rockin

    What’s done is done. Cheonan sank. By whom is not 100% clear.
    Result: Tension in Korean peninsula.
    Worst Scenario: War between North and South.
    Best Scenario: No war.
    Objective: Increase tension between N and S. Achieved.
    2nd Objective: Escalate to war? Not likely. Too many casualties.
    Then what? Reunify N and S without war.
    3rd Objective: Slow China from becoming economic powerhouse.

    I think there’s more to this than meets the eye.

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