US and South Korea to conduct naval exercises in response to warship sinking

Monday, May 24, 2010

Following a report blaming North Korea for the sinking of a South Korean naval vessel in March, the United States and South Korea plan to hold joint naval exercises "in the near future."

The exercises are planned to focus on anti-submarine patrols, as well as improving both country's ability to detect shipments of nuclear material, which are currently banned. According to analysts, the patrols are not intended to serve to intimidate North Korea; rather, they are considered a gesture of support towards the South. The announcement marks the first response from the US military to the incident, although economic measures were announced earlier today.

Several hours before the announcement of military patrols, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak announced economic measures against North Korea in response to the attack. The measures, endorsed by the US government, include the following:

  • Ending trade between the two Koreas;
  • Preventing North Korean vessels from entering South Korean ports or waterways;
  • The resumption of a Cold War tactic known as "psychological warfare," including propaganda broadcast at the border and the dropping of leaflets from balloons;
  • Requesting the intervention of the United Nations

The moves are considered the most aggressive steps South Korea could take short of war. In a statement, President Lee said that "[w]e have always tolerated North Korea’s brutality, time and again. But now things are different. North Korea will pay a price corresponding to its provocative acts. Trade and exchanges between South and North Korea will be suspended."

The United States has not said what measures it will take in response to the incident beyond the announced naval patrols. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is to meet with President Lee on Wednesday, after which she will announce the US response.

Clinton did say, however, that "[t]he Republic of Korea can continue to count on the full support of the United States. Our support for South Korea’s defense is unequivocal." She is currently in China, for talks between the US and Chinese governments.

North Korea has continually denied its involvement in the warship's sinking, and the country's military released a statement warning that "[i]f [South Korea] sets up new tools for psychological warfare such as loudspeakers and leaves slogans for psychological warfare intact, ignoring our demands, we will directly aim and open fire to destroy them."

A North Korean military commander told the state newspaper that "[m]ore powerful physical strikes will be taken to eradicate the root of provocation if [South Korea] challenges to our fair response."

A South Korean 1,200 tonne Pohang-class corvette of the Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN), the ROKS Cheonan, sank March 26, 2010 near the disputed maritime border with North Korea. Of the 104 aboard, 46 seamen went down. The multi-national Joint Civilian-Military Investigation Group (JIG) investigation determined that a shockwave and bubble effect from a non-contact underwater horning North Korean torpedo explosion caused the naval vessel to split apart and sink.


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