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South Korea Takes Steps

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We’re beginning to see the outlines of South Korea’s response to the sinking of Cheonan:

President Lee Myung-bak said on Monday that South Korea would drastically reduce trade with North Korea, restrict North Korean merchant ship use of South Korean sea lanes and call on the United Nations Security Council to punish the North for what he called the deliberate sinking a South Korean warship two months ago…

Cutting off trade with North Korea is probably the strongest unilateral action the South can take against the impoverished North. South Korea imports $230 million worth of seafood and other products from the North a year. North Korea earns $50 million a year making clothes and carrying out other business deals with South Korean companies.

Mr. Lee also said that South Korea would block North Korean merchant ships from using South Korean waters off the southern coast. That would force the ships to detour and use more fuel.

South Korea has also agreed to a major anti-submarine exercise with the United States, more extensive naval coordination with the PSI (Proliferation Security Initiative), and resumption of propaganda broadcasts from loudspeakers in the DMZ. North Korea, for its part, has threatened to start breaking (more of) South Korea’s stuff:

North Korea threatened to fire at South Korean loudspeakers along the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and destroy them, Monday, if Seoul resumes propaganda broadcasting suspended since 2004.

“If South Korea installs new speakers for psychological warfare, we will directly aim at them and open fire to destroy them,” an unnamed North Korean military commander said in a statement, carried by Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency.

While on the topic, allow me to say that I’m less than impressed with this David Sanger article. Key graf:

A new American intelligence analysis of a deadly torpedo attack on a South Korean warship concludes that Kim Jong-il, the ailing leader of North Korea, must have authorized the torpedo assault, according to senior American officials who cautioned that the assessment was based on their sense of the political dynamics there rather than hard evidence.

The officials said they were increasingly convinced that Mr. Kim ordered the sinking of the ship, the Cheonan, to help secure the succession of his youngest son.

“We can’t say it is established fact,” said one senior American official who was involved in the highly classified assessment, based on information collected by many of the country’s 16 intelligence agencies. “But there is very little doubt, based on what we know about the current state of the North Korean leadership and the military.”

Well…. that’s pretty authoritative. The crucial bit of evidence seems to be that Dear Leader visited and decorated the leader of the unit that’s suspected in the attack. Call me a raging skeptic, but that seems somewhat less than conclusive. I suspect that Kim Jong-Il did push the button; CoGs tend to be responsible for this thing more often than not. However, I also wouldn’t be stunned if the order came from a lower level commander, or one of the various brokers jockeying for position in anticipation of Kim’s death. If there’s a single problem that has bedeviled US intelligence in the last sixty years, it’s the difficulty in understanding the internal operation of authoritarian regimes. Even when we have a relative wealth of information (Kremlinology, for example) we still manage to make large errors. In this case, the officials that Sanger quotes don’t really seem to have any evidence worth noting.

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