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Pentagon dials up pressure on North Korea for Cheonan sinking

The Pentagon announced Monday that it will conduct two joint naval exercises with South Korea in response to confirmation that North Korea was responsible for the warship Cheonan sinking.

By Staff writer / May 24, 2010

The largest US-South Korea joint military exercise, called Key Resolve/Foal Eagle, is pictured here, with a US marine speaking to South Korean marines during this year's exercise on March 11. The US announced Monday that it will hold joint naval exercises with South Korea in response to the Cheonan sinking by North Korea.

Kim Jae-Hwan/AP



Sometime soon, US and South Korean warships will conduct two joint naval exercises off the Korean peninsula, the Pentagon announced on Monday. The maneuvers are intended as a response to North Korea’s sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan in March and will focus on antisubmarine warfare and the interdiction of banned weapons shipments, according to Defense Department officials.

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“We think that this is an area where, working with the Republic of Korea, we can hone some skills and increase capabilities,” said Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman.

It is also an area where the US and its South Korean ally likely will tread with caution. When it comes to responding to Pyongyang’s provocations, the US needs to appear strong and cautious at the same time, says Victor Cha, senior adviser and Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

That’s because the North Koreans appear to respect military strength, but are also highly unpredictable. In light of that difficult geopolitical situation, the proposed US-South Korea naval exercises are a reasonable and necessary response, says Mr. Cha.

“You want to respond forcefully enough so that North Korea is deterred from doing it again, but you also don’t want to start a war,” he says.

America's balancing act

A team of international investigators last week issued concluded that a North Korean torpedo attack sank the Cheonan. Forty-six South Korean sailors were killed in the incident, the worst military loss for Seoul since the Korean War.

The nature of Seoul’s response to this tragedy is important to the US, as well as South Korea itself. South Korea is an important regional ally, and 28,000 US military personnel are based in the country. The US is bound by treaty to come to South Korea’s defense in any new Korean peninsula conflict.

As a result, the Obama administration response has been both supportive and a bit vague to this point. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, visiting China in an effort to win support for further diplomatic action against both North Korea and Iran, said that the US is trying as hard as it can to head off an armed conflict on the Korean peninsula.