Thursday, April 29, 2010

The dilemma over South Korea's sunken warship Cheonan

An official funeral has taken place for the 46 South Korean sailors who died when their warship the Cheonan sank March 26.

Since the end of World War II only two navies, the British and the Pakistani, are known to have used a submarine to sink a warship.

Now though there appears to be growing evidence that North Korea's underwater fleet may have become the third. While this is certainly a South Korean military disaster, it has the potential to become much more than that.

After an initial examination the following observations and explanations have been announced to the public.

  • The skin of the ship was bent inwards, pointing to an external rather than an internal explosion, a conclusion given further weight by the fact that the ship's weapons storage area is intact
  • There are no signs of scraping, or of a collision, ruling out the possibility that the ship ran aground
  • There is no evidence of soot or melting on the skin of the ship, suggesting that the external explosion took place some distance away from the hull

Little wonder, then, that suspicion is mounting, with South Korean Defence Minister Kim Tae-young concluding that a torpedo attack is among the "most likely" causes.

If concrete proof of the North's involvement is eventually produced, it would reinforce with shocking clarity just how easily this smoldering cold-war conflict could reignite. And it would present the international community with a serious strategic challenge - how to send a message of deterrence without risking further escalation?


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