North Korean attack: South mingles toughness with calls for calm
North Korean attack on South Korea was the first such event on land since the Korean War. South Korean analysts appear puzzled over how best to respond to the North Korean attack.
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This was an attack that involved citizens
South Koreans appeared far more indignant over the attack on Tuesday than they ever were by the sinking of the Cheonan, split in two by a torpedo fired by a North Korean midget submarine. South Koreans tended at the time to view that episode as an isolated incident that involved only military forces, not civilians.Skip to next paragraph
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The attack this time was much more serious than naval clashes for one basic reason. "It was the first time they attacked us on land since the Korean War," said Lee Jong-min, professor at Yonsei University and ambassador on security affairs at the Foreign Ministry.
No one thinks the attack could have been at the orders of a regional commander acting on his own. "Kim Jong-il has to have ordered it," said Robert Collins, retired intelligence analyst for US command here.
Carefully planned follow-up to nuclear revelations?
South Korean analysts saw the attack as a carefully planned follow-up to revelation of North Korea’s new enriched uranium facility, nearing completion at the Yongbyon nuclear complex.
A team of several Americans, including nuclear physicist Siegfried Hecker, visited the facility earlier this month, returning to say that North Korean engineers have already fabricated 2,000 centrifuges for enriching uranium and are well on the way to making it operational.
By showing off its new nuclear program and then by attacking on land, says Mr. Choi, North Korea “believes it can force South Korea and the US to come to negotiations.”
Few here believe North Korea would negotiate away its nuclear program. Rather, the North’s goal is assumed to be a peace treaty in place of the armistice that ended the Korean War and withdrawal of all US forces from the Korean peninsula.
South Korean analysts appear puzzled, though, as to the best response.
“We have too many things to protect,” says Kim Tae-woo, senior fellow at the Korean Institute for Defense Analyses. “We have to prevent instability to our economy. We have to worry about our stock market.”
He said South Korea’s military command was “still figuring what to do,” while people “worry about the possibility of more shells.”
By the end of the afternoon, however, after the incident was over, many believed that this too would pass.
“We do not want escalation,” says Mr. Choi. “There will be tension for a period.” But then, he predicts, “there will be another clash.”