How Will World Respond to Korean Warship Sinking?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promises an "international" reaction

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has finally weighed in publicly on the South Korean warship matter, a day after South Korea formally accused North Korea of sinking the Cheonan back in March. "This will not be and cannot be business as usual. There must be an international--not just a regional--response," said Clinton, reported by John Pomfret for The Washington Post. So what now? Commentators were already fretting over the predicament before Clinton spoke: what could an  "international" response look like?

  • No Good Answer Here--Don't Expect Military, suggests Doug Mataconis at Outside the Beltway, reacting to Clinton's condemnation.
If this were any other nation, and any other part of the world, the response to a torpedo attack on a warship would be military retaliation of some kind. That's not going to happen on the Korean Peninsula and, given both the irrationality of the Pongyang regime, and the danger of a wider war, it probably shouldn't. However, we already know that words and sanctions don’t have much of an impact on Kim Jong Il so it's unclear what good they'd do this time around.
  • The Key Is China  "North Korea is an excellent example of the hopelessness of a ferocious dictatorship over five decades, threatening South Korea and the global community to a degree that is out of proportion to the poverty-stricken country's actual capabilities," explains Seoul-based Lee Byong-Chul at Asia Sentinel. But Beijing has "warned" Seoul about responding too strongly to the Cheonan incident, "and insinuated that China would form a likely alliance with North Korea" should the situation escalate. "Pyonynag views Chinese engagement as necessary to its survival," while China has its own interests in maintaining influence in North Korea.
  • Agreed: All Eyes on Beijing  The Chinese government has previously "advocated a softly-softly" approach to North Korea, hoping it "could be persuaded to follow China's own transition from cultish despotism to economic reform," writes Con Coughlin at The Telegraph. But "if China has serious pretensions to becoming a major world power, then it needs to bring all its influence to bear on the North Korean regime to ensure that there is no recurrence of the Cheonan disaster.
  • 'Wise to Expect the Unexpected' says Donald Kirk at Asia Times, particularly in this "standoff." Nevertheless, "the sense ... is the North has made a fundamental point. There's not much South Korea will do beside engage in threats and words while China makes up for the losses in trade, aid and diplomatic sympathy." Kirk also has an unusual idea regarding North Korea's declaration, denying that it sank the ship, that "it wanted to send a delegation of its own ... to carry out its own investigation" of the Cheonan wreckage:
What if South Korea actually said, fine, come on down? Is North Korea really prepared to send a team? And what would they say or think when photographed peering at the fragments of the torpedo--and the wreckage of the Cheonan? Any chance they would return to the North bearing the news for Kim Jong-il that, yes, we actually did fire the torpedo?
  • 'War Is Not Likely,' asserts John McCreary, a former intelligence analyst, "but increased tension and testiness are." He notes that "the quality of the South's demonstrative evidence is such to even make it hard for China and Russia to stand behind North Korea in this incident."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.