South Korea’s Best Response…

… to the evidence that a North Korean submarine torpedoed and sunk one of its ships is to write it off as North Korean incompetence. Despite persuasive evidence by the South that its ship was sunk by a North Korean torpedo, North Korea denies its involvement. South Korea should accept that denial at face value, and claim it as evidence that the North Koreans are unable to even keep track of their own military. Even after the fact they are unable to figure out what their navy has done. They should issue a press release along these lines, acknowledging that the denial could only be the result of North Korean incompetence, and then simply let the incident drop.

They can close their statement, and smooth over the incident, by saying “We understand that they did not intend to sink our ship, because even after the fact they are unaware of what they have done. ”

Despite lots of saber-rattling over this issue, recall that there was not much in the way of sanctions or other punishment when the Soviet Union shot down a Korean Airlines 747 in 1983. In that case, as in this one, it appears the attacks really were mistakes. So, the claim that the sinking was a result of incompetence on the part of the North Korean Navy appears accurate. What would North Korea have to gain by sinking the ship and then denying any involvement?

Pointing out North Korean incompetence, first by their accidental sinking of the ship (evidence: they don’t even realize they did it, if their denial is accepted), and second, by their inability to understand what happened even after the fact (evidence: their denial again) would probably do more to curb North Korean aggressiveness than sanctions and condemnations.

Randall G. Holcombe is a Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute, the DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University, and author of the Independent Institute book Liberty in Peril: Democracy and Power in American History.
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