1 September 2010

Primer—North Korea, South Korea, and the United States: Reading between the lines of the Cheonan attack

On March 26, 2010, North Korea attacked the South Korean vessel Cheonan, killing 46 people and making it one of the deadliest encounters in Korea in recent years. This attack followed a year of mounting tensions in which Pyongyang tested the first stage of a long-range missile in the guise of putting a satellite into orbit and then conducted its second underground nuclear test. Following the attack, the Obama administration backed South Korea’s decision to punish North Korea with tough trade sanctions. The author writes that this was not necessarily a wise move, as punitive measures, however justifiable, will be met tit-for-tat by North Korea. Pyongyang reacted to the July 2006 U.N. Security Council sanctions for its missile tests, the author writes, by conducting a nuclear test; its response to tougher U.N. sanctions in June 2009 for its second nuclear test was to reprocess more plutonium. The author looks at recent interactions, discussions, and disputes among North Korea, South Korea, and the United States, and writes that the only way to make the waters off Korea safer and to stop further nuclear proliferation is to resume the Six-Party Talks soon, negotiate in earnest, and start a parallel peace process for the Korea.