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Meanwhile, on the Korean Peninsula

By Matthew Yglesias on April 27, 2010 at 5:31 pm

"Meanwhile, on the Korean Peninsula"

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Arguably the most important story nobody’s paying attention to (and certainly I haven’t been writing about) is the sinking of the ROKS Cheonan late last month off the coast of the Korean Peninsula. The latest word is that it was sunk by a North Korean ship but nobody wants to say so officially or on the record “because of the sensitivity of the matter and due to the fact neither South Korea or the United States has publicly discussed any potential response.”

Robert Farley comments:

As I’ve suggested before, I think that the cause of the sinking was probably obvious to investigators after fairly cursory inspection. I think that both the Americans and South Koreans are taking this slow because they’re trying to work out the implications both of the attack and of the array of potential responses.

Indeed. At first cut, the problem here is that it’s basically not in South Korea’s interest to engage in hostilities with North Korea unless the DPRK’s provocations get really severe. War with North Korea would be extremely risky for the South, which is a happy prosperous country with a lot to lose. This is particularly true because not only could a war do a lot of damage to South Korea, but any kind of conflict would always come with the risk that the South would win and find itself responsible for taking over the North Korean basketcase.

At the same time, it really is true that you don’t want to encourage the North Koreans to think that you’re a paper tiger who can be easily pushed around. So the most comfortable position, in the short time, is a posture of ignorance. The South isn’t responding not because it doesn’t want to, but because it doesn’t know what happened.

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