The Korean peninsular is on war footing after an attack on a South Korean navy ship blamed on its rogue northern neighbour. But despite international condemnation most commentators believe the South, at least, will pull back from the brink.

North Korea vows to sever all ties with its southern neighbour following suggestions the communist nation was behind the sinking of a South Korean warship two months ago. The torpedoing of the Cheonan killed 46 crew.

While the cause of the ship’s demise was initially unknown, a multi-national investigation found fragments of a North Korean torpedo propeller on the seabed near the site of the attack, prompting South Korean president Lee Myung-Bak, to call for an immediate apology and punishment to those involved.

North Korea has steadfastly denied responsibility for the attack, moving instead to sever diplomatic and economics ties with the South.

Among growing international concern that tensions will continue to escalate, CNBC staff writers report the North Korean military is preparing for potential conflict:

“North Korea often issues fiery rhetoric and regularly vows to wage war against South Korea and the U.S. … Seoul-based North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity said Tuesday that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il last week ordered his military to get ready for combat.”

US President Barack Obama has publicly announced his support for South Korea over the past few days, backing Myung-Bak’s decision to take the matter to the United Nations Security Council. President Obama has also announced that the US military is ready to throw its support behind South Korea, should it be needed.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd  declared his support for its ally, describing the sinking as “deplorable”, “hostile and unprovoked”. Not surprisingly, China has been comparatively quiet on the issue, refusing calls by US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to pressure North Korea out of any further aggression.

For the South, its secretive and potentially nuclear-armed neighbour is now enemy number one. Kim So-hyun of the Korea Sun Herald writes:

“The main enemy concept has been a source of an ideological dispute here as views of national security greatly vary among the Korean population 60 years after the Korean War, started by the North’s invasion, tore the peninsula in two. The Koreas, divided by a heavily guarded border, are technically still at war, as the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce instead of a peace treaty.”

But there are pleas for calm, and little appetite for war in a country already suffering. South Korean student Kyungho Rhee, writing for the BBC, said it’s not in the country’s best interests to retaliate:

“There is not much appetite for war here. Our economy is getting stronger and a war would hurt us badly. We don’t have a very strong military. We do have the backing of the US but we can’t rely on them. So stopping trade with the North is the best we can do.”

Patricia Hess argues a similar case in the Seoul Times. Nobody wants another Middle East:

“A brief look at history proves that retaliation doesn’t work. Look at Israel and Palestine. When one strikes, the other strikes back, and the first one strikes again, and the other one strikes back again, and again, and again, and the bloodshed is never justified and never ending. Right now, we are grieving over 46 sons. How many more would we lose in another war?”

The Korean War still haunts the region. Writing for The China Post, Arthur Cyr calls for rememberance:

“This latest violence is as unlikely as previous incidents to lead to renewal of general fighting. The Korean War was extraordinarily costly, and neither side has ever tried to renew such hostilities. North Korea now has at least a primitive nuclear weapon, but any use would result in instant devastating retaliation.”

Certainly, and not surprisingly, North Korea’s state-run news agency insists evidence of the attack has been fabricated:

“In the course of nearly two month-long investigation the puppet group fabricated what it called ‘circumstantial evidence’ with conjecture, supposition and random guess. It just produced fragments and pieces of aluminum whose origin remains unknown as “evidence,” becoming the target of derision.”

Another student from Seoul, Gyuhang Kim, suggests to the BBC North Korea’s involvement in the sinking of the Cheonan might not be as clear as first thought:

“I and many others suspect the South Korean government of deliberately accusing North Korea, even of making up the proof. We are well aware of the anti-North Korean sentiment of the government and do not trust the official report at all.”

Peter Fray

Save up to 50% on a year of Crikey.

This extraordinary year is almost at an end. But we know that time waits for no one, and we won’t either. This is the time to get on board with Crikey.

For a limited time only, choose what you pay for a year of Crikey.

Save up to 50% or dig deeper so we can dig deeper.

See you in 2021.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

SAVE 50%