Belmont Club

Damn the Torpedoes: North Korea Strikes South Korea

CNN reports that North Korea has hit a South Korean island with 200 rounds of artillery. “At least 200 rounds of artillery hit an inhabited South Korean island in the Yellow Sea after the North started firing about 2:30 p.m. local time … South Korea’s military responded with 80 rounds of artillery and deployed fighter jets to counter the fire, the report said.”  CNN correspondent Andrew Salmon said, “what we’re seeing is something new.”

But maybe not unexpected.

In March of this year, the South Korean Pohang-class corvette Cheonan was torpedoed by a North Korean submarine.  Hillary Clinton responded by sternly warned North Korea that it would face consequences.

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In warning Pyongyang, Secretary of State Clinton aimed to send a “clear message” to North Korea: “We cannot allow this attack on South Korea to go unanswered by the international community.” Whatever the message sent was, it didn’t deter North Korea from this latest attack. But don’t worry. The odds are that Secretary Clinton is consulting with allies to determine how to engage Pyongyang so that this doesn’t happen again, at least not in the next few months.

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Reuters has details on the US response. The gist of it is that the allies are going to get China to talk to North Korea. This is a backhanded admission that the arbiter of affairs on the Korean peninsula is China.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the United States was seeking a unified diplomatic front with North Korea’s neighbors including China, Pyongyang’s sole remaining major backer which has in the past resisted international efforts to get tough with its isolated ally.

The message is that if you want something done in the region, talk to China. Washington’s utility has been reduced to a spokesman of the delegation to China. But the real gears turn in the Middle Kingdom. Therefore, it would not be surprising if one day the allies simply recognized that the US Secretary of State was an unnecessary and superfluous intermediary between themselves and the real audience. Logically the next step is to deal directly with the Chinese leadership in Beijing. The US has been dealing itself out its global commitments. Whether that is good depends on your point of view. One thing that is undeniable, however, is that an American retreat will have consequences, ones that will not be easily reversed.

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