North Korea’s Unsurprising Surprises
Image Credit: US Army

North Korea’s Unsurprising Surprises


Conspiracy theories persist over the March sinking of the South Korean corvette the Cheonan. Is there any doubt in your mind that North Korea was responsible?

I don’t think so. I can’t think of another explanation that holds water. Of course, I didn’t see it with my own eyes. And there are some people who even if they did see a ship or submarine with Korean People’s Army markings on it would still say it was a CIA or South Korean intelligence operation. But the forensic evidence shows it was a torpedo. Who else would have fired a torpedo? There’s no way to say with 100 percent certainty, but there’s no alternative explanation that even comes close to making sense.

So what do you think was behind the decision to do this? Would this have been planned in advance?

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I think they were planning it for quite some time. This isn’t the first time something like this has happened in that area—ships have been sunk before and aircraft have been shot down before, and there have been escalating tensions recently. The North Koreans sent several warnings and signals about this and we did see a naval clash last year. After all, historically, North Korea has executed attacks and provocations on numerous occasions.

Some of the conspiracy theories aren’t even worth addressing, they’re quite silly. However, there were some serious questions, and there were some odd things in the investigation.

Such as?

Such as the blue pin marking on the torpedo, the propulsion system parts recovered from the sea floor. There were a number of problems about how information was slowly released to the public regarding the thermal observation device records, the time line etc. The South Koreans also put up the wrong schematic for the torpedo during the briefing on May 20 even though they knew it was wrong the day before. They just wanted to keep pushing the time schedule. The way they handled relations with the press, opposition party, the inter government agencies…There were a number of blunders. But that doesn’t change where the attack came from—they are completely different issues.

This year saw the appointment of Kim Jong-il’s youngest son, Kim Jong-un, as a general. Is there any doubt now he’ll be the successor to Kim Jong-il?

It certainly appears he will be. Arrangements were already being made last year. There have been constitutional changes, elevating of the status of Kim Jong-il and the Kim family cult, expansion of the national defence commission, expansion of the number of members and roles they would play, efforts to resuscitate the economy, suppress or eradicate markets, take control of economic resources so the state could reward loyalists or punish dissidents, military promotion—things like that. It has all been pointing in the direction of a transferring of power to him.

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