The Mystery of the Lost Corvette
No. 3 2010 July/September
Alexander Vorontsov

Alexander Vorontsov is Head of the Korea and Mongolia Department at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Oleg Revenko

 Oleg Revenko is a political scientist

Korean Aggravation and the Future of East Asia

The encouraging efforts by diplomats in late 2009 and early 2010 to resume the six-party talks over the Korean peninsula’s nuclear issue were brought to a sudden halt when relations between North and South Korea suffered an unexpected setback. The reason was the incident with the South Korean Navy’s corvette Cheonan which sank in the Yellow Sea on March 26, 2010 under obscure circumstances. For South Korea it was the worst maritime disaster in history. Small wonder the question about the causes and culprits of the ship’s loss still agitate the public mind. No plausible answer has been offered so far.


The prompt investigation made by Seoul with assistance by invited experts from allied and friendly countries (the U.S., the UK, Australia, and Sweden) arrived at the unequivocal conclusion that the corvette was torpedoed by a North Korean submarine as a torpedo’s fragments were allegedly found in the area of the tragedy. After some time the items in question were demonstrated in public. Pyongyang flatly denies any involvement in the incident, which it calls a pre-planned provocation. Many independent experts in various countries, including the United States, South Korea and Japan, are in favor of conducting an impartial investigation which would be based on evidence from different sources. They claim that the evidence South Korea has provided so far is unconvincing and has too many blank spots and inconsistencies.

There are many alternative versions, too, offered by mass media in South Korea, Japan and other countries. If they are to be believed, the Cheonan fell victim to a mine or to “friendly fire” from South Korean ships that were taking part in a joint exercise of the U.S.-South Korean naval forces near the site of the incident. There have been no sound counter-arguments to the suspicion that the corvette suffered a collision with a U.S. submarine or hit its own mine. This possibility has been mentioned by South Korea’s Opposition and influential NGOs, which have conducted their own independent investigation of the tragedy in the Yellow Sea and sent to the United Nations a document disavowing the version of their own government. The South Korean and U.S. authorities emphatically dismiss such speculations and slam their authors as conspirologists, but many of the raised questions remain unanswered and the details of the tragedy are still shrouded in secrecy.

Whatever the case, as soon as the panel of inquiry pronounced its judgement, President Lee Myung-bak on May 24, 2010 announced a package of measures to curtail inter-Korean cooperation. On behalf of the president the Defense Ministry restored in its doctrinal documents the concept of the “main enemy” pointing to North Korea. Seoul set a course towards submitting the North Korean dossier to the UN Security Council to secure condemnation of North Korea’s actions and adoption of counter-measures against that country.

Pyongyang acted measure for measure. Disclaiming any involvement in the loss of the ship, it accused Seoul of deliberate falsification of facts. The North Korean leadership announced complete cessation of the dialogue and all official contacts with the South. It cancelled the basic Inter-Korean Agreement for Non-Aggression and Reconciliation of 1991 and switched off all military and civil communication lines, including those used to prevent and resolve armed incidents. It was stated that henceforth all matters arising in the inter-Korean relations would be resolved under wartime laws. In addition, North Korea sounded a warning that in case of hostile broadcasts through loudspeakers planted near the border the armed forces would suppress them with “pinpoint fire.”
Pyongyang announced putting the armed forces on full combat alert. At the same time it stressed the determination to respond to Seoul’s actions – should there be any – affecting the sovereignty of North Korea with a “full-scale war” and “unrestricted use of military force.”

The current surge of tensions in the Korean peninsula is unprecedented. After the Korean War between the North and the South there have been all sorts of incidents – there were skirmishes and sanguinary clashes, and far from always it was clear which side had triggered the conflict situation. But each time the fire was put out relatively quickly. Now, perhaps for the first time since the Korean War, either party’s actions have brought about a situation close to that of a direct armed conflict. At least all the material prerequisites for it are there.

In a situation like this there arises the natural question: What’s next? The true causes of the corvette’s sinking have faded into the background – the world community by and large has made a “political decision” by agreeing with Seoul’s conclusion that North Korea was involved in the incident. In particular, this is reflected in the final document of the G8 summit in Muskoka in June 2010, which, in fact, upheld the conclusions of an international commission regarding Pyongyang’s guilt and demanded that North Korea refrain from any further provocations or other hostile actions against its southern neighbor.

For now, of all of the world’s leading powers only Russia and China have doubts. Both argue that the pieces of evidence the South Koreans and the Americans have gathered are not convincing enough. Apart from the fragments of a torpedo recovered from the seabed (where they were found, when and by whom is anyone’s guess) Seoul barely has any other evidence against Pyongyang. (Incidentally, the so-called “international expert group” was not allowed to study the debris and all work on them was left to the military’s sole discretion). Experts familiar with the condition of the North Korean Navy believe that it has no submarines carrying powerful torpedoes and capable of sneaking in shallow water into the territorial zone of South Korea. Several independent experts have called in question the suspicion the North Koreans, with their backward military technologies, are capable of accomplishing so masterfully an intricate military operation in a well-protected area off the island of Baengnyeong, which is a well-fortified zone equipped with the latest means of monitoring and verification, and then escape undetected.

South Korean officials have brushed off all unpleasant questions. They keep saying that the findings are final and not subject to discussion, let alone revision. The immediate aim Seoul has set to itself is to make the UN Security Council adopt a resolution condemning Pyongyang’s actions. Ideally, it should introduce a set of new punitive measures.
In a series of retaliatory statements Pyongyang warned the Security Council against provoking North Korea. Otherwise, it will be forced to resort to military force, and if South Korea takes proactive steps, such as unleashing a psychological war, the punishment would be “asymmetric and merciless” and turn Seoul into a “sea of fire.”

The South Koreans, in turn, are holding firmly to their original stance. They argue that if the UN Security Council’s resolution looks not harsh enough, South Korea will reserve the right to take unilateral steps against North Korea: sever all inter-Korean relations, launch a propaganda war in the areas adjacent to the demilitarized zone, promptly upgrade the armed forces, and widen military cooperation with the U.S., Japan and Australia. Seoul, pretty certain about its military superiority as long as it acts in alliance with Washington and under the cover of the American nuclear umbrella, has repeatedly issued unofficial signals about its readiness for war till the elimination of the North Korean regime. If statements by the rival nations are to be taken seriously, an insoluble vicious situation becomes obvious: there is no room for compromise, and whatever decision may be adopted by the UN Security Council, the conflict between the North and the South appears to be inevitable.

True, as long as the sharply politicized environment stays white-hot, the circumstances of the ship’s sinking will remain a hard nutshell to crack. The sole hope is pinned on the work of Russian naval experts, who at Seoul’s invitation visited the site of the tragedy and studied the materials provided. So whatever happened in reality (a provocation by either party, a special military operation, or a tragic accident), it is important to try to determine whose interests were involved, and who may stand to gain from pouring more oil onto the fire.


In Seoul, many tend to believe that the North Korean leadership dared take this action firstly, to “avenge” the defeat in the naval clash in November last year, and, secondly, to bolster the authority of Kim Jong-il’s successor, his youngest son Kim Jong-un. It looks like these arguments do not stand up to scrutiny. The authorities in Pyongyang, of course, are not angels, but they are prudent people of sound mind and certainly devoid of suicidal inclinations. It is difficult to imagine a step more senseless than the sinking of a South Korean warship. North Korea is struggling through a sequence of dramatic internal trials: the unsuccessful currency reform early this year, which triggered chaos in the economy and required urgent correction, the poor health of the North Korean leader, and the need for concentrating efforts on the smooth transfer of power from father to son. Not to mention the fact that the poor grain harvest this year due to bad weather and fertilizers shortages may put the country on the brink of famine and the need to ask the international community for humanitarian aid (according to some projections, the shortage of grain may range 1.2 million tons to 1.6 million tons). In a word, Pyongyang has quite a few no simple issues to address, mostly related to the survival and gradual transformation of the regime. A key prerequisite for this is peace on the borders, and not provocation of tensions in relations with its near neighbors.

It should be borne in mind that the loss of the corvette occurred precisely when the Chinese plan for breathing a new life into six-party talks started working. That plan had been agreed in principle by all parties concerned (a bilateral high-level U.S.-North Korean contact; an informal meeting of the sextet; the resumption of the full-scale dialogue in Beijing). At the end of March, the head of the North Korean delegation was to fly to the U.S. in accordance with the first phase of the plan’s implementation. Evil tongues in Washington argue it was the gist of the “diabolical plan” to take evasive action by pressing for meetings with the Americans and simultaneously prepare for the provocation in the Yellow Sea with the aim to torpedo not so much the ship, but the six-party talks. In our view, there is no logic here. Why may Pyongyang need such a risky plot – an obviously doomed one? After all, it had blocked the renewal of six-party talks for 18 months with very little effort and without losing face.

As for South Korea, the Cheonan incident played into its hands. It was a good excuse to complete the long-planned shift from the policy of dialogue and cooperation with the North, which had lasted for nearly a decade, to building a new system of inter-Korean relations from the position of strength. Pyongyang would have to unilaterally drop its nuclear ambitions and agree to cooperate with Seoul on the strict conditions the South would dictate. The way South Korean strategists see it, only a policy of squeezing North Korea into submission is capable of yielding success and forcing its leaders to make substantial concessions on issues of importance for South Korea and, in the longer perspective, in case of the North Korean system’s collapse – of creating favorable conditions for the reunification of Korea on Seoul’s terms.

Moreover, observers were quick to remark that the Cheonan factor looked a good pretext for consolidating the nation on the anti-North Korean basis and giving the administration and the ruling party a firmer foothold in the run-up to the elections that took place in early June. On the credit side one should also list the creation of an atmosphere that allowed the Ministry of Defense to request a seven-percent increase in spending next year, and finally to produce a solid argument postponing (from April 2012 till December 2015) the transfer of the South Korean army’s command from Washington to Seoul in wartime.

The position and interests of the U.S. look more complex. Washington is about to start working on a multifaceted task of staging its comeback to Asia, which implies regaining the leading role in the region, partially lost under President George W. Bush. The most powerful argument in favor of adopting such a strategy was the risk of a further weakening of the grip on the regional situation. The more so, since this has been happening against a backdrop of continued growth of economic and political influence of several Asian countries, especially ASEAN member-states; the increasing tendency towards the emergence of new multilateral structures without American participation; and, finally, the rise of China as an economic giant, which is conducting an ever more active military and naval policy in Northeast Asia and elsewhere.

The maritime tragedy became a pretext for stepping up pressures on and exacerbating the international isolation of North Korea – a great nuisance for Washington by virtue of its unpredictability and stubbornness and a major hindrance to the realization of its ambitious plans. Whereas the Bush administration tried to achieve success with a stick and carrot policy, for Barack Obama, who is determined to strengthen the United States’ position in Asia at no additional cost, giving any rewards to the North Korean regime, even in exchange for “good conduct,” would be inappropriate. (Especially as Obama is subject to harsh criticism for being too lax towards various “wrong” regimes.) Hence the loss of interest in the six-party talks on the Korean peninsula’s nuclear issue and the policy of full isolation of North Korea under any pretext, in the hope that the net effect would be a change of the regime and the subsequent takeover of the North by the South.

However, the political intrigue that has been unfolding before our eyes has another side to it, namely, the deterrence of China’s growing ambitions in the Korean peninsula and across the region. The minimum objective is to put Beijing in front of a stark choice: whether it prefers to team up with the North Korean “provocateurs” or with the “civilized community” condemning Pyongyang’s actions. Whichever option the Chinese may choose, according to the American logic they will find themselves in the losing position, because they will have to either quarrel with Seoul and Tokyo, or be at odds with North Korea.

So far Beijing has managed to maintain equilibrium. During his visit to Seoul for a summit of the East Asian Troika in May 2010, Premier Wen Jiabao issued a call for “turning the tragic page” of the Cheonan affair as quickly as possible. He also urged the importance of acting with responsibility on this sensitive issue in order to reduce confrontation and preserve peace and stability in the peninsula. The question is how long Beijing will be able stay on this shaky platform.

In the U.S. media one may already hear half-whispers that the growing tensions over Korea create favorable opportunities for promoting Washington’s military-political interests in a region close to China. The United States and its allies have long been concerned about the growing activity of the Chinese Navy. Any references to North Korea’s aggressive behavior serve as a good excuse for arms buildup by the United States, South Korea and Japan, which, in fact, is already happening. Seoul has announced a series of anti-submarine and naval exercises, both independent and joint ones with the United States. Also, the allies have stepped up intelligence activities in the Yellow Sea.

Japan has not lagged very far behind. It plans to increase its military budget for the next fiscal year, as well as that under the new long-term national defense program (for 10 to15 years), due to be adopted shortly. Of course, the alleged “North Korean threat” in this case looks like a skillfully created political scarecrow, while the underlying purpose – that of deterring China – does not seem very far-fetched. It looks like the Cheonan dimension of U.S. policy has affected Japan in some very practical terms. Many observers point out that the crisis over the South Korean corvette gave Washington an additional lever to put pressures on Tokyo. In part, it worked very well as a tool to get rid of adamant Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama. He had to abandon attempts (and his election pledge) to ensure the withdrawal of U.S. Futenma Marine Corps Air Base from the island of Okinawa. That was the reason for his immediate resignation on June 3, 2010. In other words, the Americans’ success was complete: their military presence in a strategic area was prolonged and an unwanted Japanese leader was forced to quit.

For Russia, the Cheonan incident was very bad in all respects. Attempts at localizing it and putting the issue on a bilateral Seoul-Pyongyang track have failed so far, because South Korea, with active support from its allies, has managed to achieve its internationalization and have it included in the UN Security Council’s agenda. Whatever position Moscow might take, it will be a sitting duck for cross-fire: either to openly oppose its G8 partners and other Western influential countries on the excuse that North Korea’s guilt has not been proved, or to side with their attitude on political grounds, which would lead to a sharp deterioration in relations with North Korea and, most importantly, to frictions with China. In the interests of maintaining stability in the Korean peninsula, Beijing strongly opposes any international decisions concerning the loss of the Cheonan that might lead to some form of punishment for Pyongyang. Russia is experiencing growing pressures from all parties to the conflict, so staying in the position of neutrality for too long will be hardly possible.


For the sake of simplifying the situation we shall try to brush away the purely technical side of the affair (the circumstances of the South Korean corvette’s loss) and give thought to the effects of the political campaign that is gaining momentum.

What may the UN’s involvement in the examination of this case lead to? It is common knowledge that in recent years the Security Council adopted three resolutions on North Korea and a number of official statements by the Security Council’s president. It all looked quite natural as long as the focus of attention was on Pyongyang’s demonstrative nuclear tests or launches of long-range ballistic missiles, which were interpreted as a threat to international peace and security. However, ever since the end of the Korean War the UN Security Council almost never interfered in inter-Korean disputes. Now, at the whim of Seoul and its allies a purely bilateral incident has become a subject for consideration at this authoritative international forum.

This creates an undesirable precedent. From now on all conflicts and clashes between the two Koreas will almost automatically be taken before the United Nations. One should have no doubts that the number of such situations will keep growing. When the Lee Myung-bak administration, determined to take a far harder line towards its northern neighbor, took office in Seoul, tensions between the North and the South soared virtually in no time. And is it possible that all these skirmishes become invariably present on the UN Security Council’s agenda, and the Security Council itself be turned into a laundromat to wash political dirty linen for both Koreas?

Incidentally, the North Koreans, whatever sins may be blamed on them, have behaved with far greater elegance and wisdom in this particular situation. After the first emotional outbursts they suggested sending to the site of the disaster a team of their own experts for studying the results of South Korea’s investigation (as a matter of fact, a unilateral one), or at least to carry out joint verification of the investigation’s results. Subsequently, an initiative was announced for holding talks between the two countries’ military with the aim to sort things out. The Southerners categorically rejected all these proposals.

And what will happen, if the policy of squeezing North Korea into submission works? The South Korean government, which has declared the curtailment of bilateral trade (in some years in the past the turnover approached the 2-billion-dollar mark, making South Korea second largest trading partner of  North Korea), is now taking steps to plug the loopholes for export and import transactions even through third countries. In the meantime, Washington is pressing for North Korea’s all-out financial blockade that would leave no chance for any Western bank to service Pyongyang’s foreign economic transactions. This looks not so much as retaliation for the Cheonan, as a systematic plan for “knocking out” an unacceptable regime.

In the past, Pyongyang repeatedly demonstrated remarkable survivability in the most unfavorable external conditions. Suffice it to recall the early 1990s, when all of a sudden relations with Moscow collapsed and the country was deprived of economic support almost entirely. It was a disaster, the living standards fell by two-thirds, but the state and the political system survived, despite the huge material and human losses.

But what if the regime’s safety margin wears thin? The hope that in the event of North Korea’s collapse there will follow a triumph of democracy and the people will eagerly embrace with their rich neighbors lack any well-calculated grounds. Something very different is far more likely: the threat of chaos, anarchy and inter-clan clashes inside a country where more than 24 million are on the verge of starvation and which possesses nuclear materials and chemical and biological weapons. In these circumstances, the hope the U.S.-Korean military contingent will be able to quickly put the situation under control and be greeted with joy (and this hope is long-cherished in some quarters) may prove a fatal illusion. This is precisely what South Korean President Syngman Rhee kept saying on the eve of the Korean War of 1950-1953. Nothing of the sort ever happened, including the brief period of the allied forces’ control of the whole territory of the North.

Of course, in the context of an extremely closed and repressive state, which exists in North Korea, it is difficult to gauge the real mood of society. It is clear that they are not what the official propaganda is telling, but the decades of indoctrination with Juche ideas were certainly not to no avail. The population is certain that nothing good can be expected from the Southerners, because “the old-time landowners will come back to take away the land and to re-enslave.” The Northerners are certain that in case of unification on the South Korean terms they are doomed to become second-rate people. Nor should one forget that the memories of the Korean War atrocities are still green, and not only in the South, but also in the North. So one can easily imagine a protracted guerrilla war, for which Pyongyang has never ceased to prepare. This is a guarantee of long-term instability in the region.

But what if full-scale war breaks out in the Korean peninsula after all? In principle, nobody wants it. Even the U.S., despite its dislike of the North Korean regime, has no desire, or, which is still more important, resources to complement the arc of instability in the Middle East with another hotbed of conflict in Northeast Asia, where the geopolitical, economic and military interests of many major powers overlap. But in the current tense situation even a random shot can trigger an uncontrollable escalation. It is necessary to take into account the possibility that Pyongyang, if driven into a corner by Washington and Seoul, may make a gesture of despair.

The one-sided policy of sanctions and isolation, including the present one, poses a real danger. Kim Jong-il and his inner circle are well aware that if their regime falls, they will be hopeless. The fate of Slobodan Milosevic, and, especially, of Saddam Hussein, are proof of that, but that is not the sole consideration that counts. An integral part of the Korean mentality is strong tradition of revenge and reprisals against the defeated enemy, and this leaves no illusions for the North Korean leaders. It is worth recalling how the democratic forces of South Korea behaved under the leadership of Kim Young-sam, who first rose to power in the early 1990s. First of all the new leadership put on trial the generals-turned-presidents – the architects of the “economic miracle.”

Even though the military leaders voluntarily agreed to democratization, one of them (Chun Doo-hwan) was sentenced to death, and the other (Roh Tae-woo) – to life imprisonment. The international community was shocked, and only intensive lobbying by the United States saved the two military retirees from the worst plight. The actual incitement to suicide of Roh Moo-hyun, the predecessor of the current president of South Korea, last year, is another illustration of political morality Korean style.

It is believed that a serious blow will be dealt not only on the North Korean ruling elite, but also on the party apparatus, functionaries and local officials, who together with their families number 2 to 3 million. And it is very likely that at least some of them may take up arms. It is beyond doubt that in the mountains and in man-made caves there already exist not only arms stockpiles, but an entire infrastructure for waging a prolonged guerrilla war. The more so, since in contrast to Iraq, 80 percent of North Korea’s territory lies in the mountains and, what is still more significant, it shares a border with China, which is far from interested in the fall of the North Korean regime and fears that any change in the status quo would not be in Beijing’s favor. Also a guerrilla movement in the North can receive support from the millions of Chinese Koreans, resident on the other side of the border.

During the recent memorable events in North Korea on the occasion of the anniversary of the Korean War of 1950-1953, senior officials said in their speeches that “in a war with the United States the Korean people will have nothing to lose but the military demarcation line” and that “without sugar and butter one can carry on, but without bullets and bombs there is no such chance.” Of course, in a long war Pyongyang will certainly suffer a crushing defeat, given the shortage of material resources, the military and technological backwardness, and the lack of reliable allies. But the outskirts of Seoul are a tiny 20-30 kilometers away from the North Korean border, and in these areas North Korea has massed up 70 percent of troops and hardware, including more than 40,000 pieces of long-range artillery and rocket launchers, which keep the South Korean capital at gunpoint. Even before this military equipment may be wiped out, North Korea will have enough time to turn much of Seoul into smoldering ruins, and South Korea will be thrown back in time with no hope for ever repeating the “economic miracle.”

In this context it is worth analyzing the recent signing by China and Taiwan of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement. This is clearly the most significant document to have been inked in the entire 60-year history of the cross-Strait relations. The agreement will strengthen trading relations between the contracting parties, which already look quite impressive: the volume of trade has exceeded 110 billion dollars. Taiwan’s gains, whose products supplied to China will be taxed at lower rates or even remain tax-exempt, are clear to the naked eye. Premier Wen Jiabao said: “We can give up our profits because the Taiwanese compatriots are our brothers.” This is a really far-sighted policy, for it creates conditions for a political rapprochement and starts the process of peaceful integration of the island with the mainland. Let us not forget that just a couple of years ago, when there was a militant nationalist government in office in Taipei, the situation was fundamentally different and sliding towards an open conflict – including a military one – between the two Chinese parties.

Isn’t this a good lesson for the two Koreas? The processes of reconciliation, rapprochement and economic cooperation between the North and the South successfully developed in the preceding decade under Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun. They conducted a prudent policy, they extended assistance to North Korea and they were putting money into its economy, often without getting immediate practical returns. But in fact those were investments in eventual unification and in the creation of guarantees of peace and stability in the Korean peninsula.

Quite noteworthy, it was at that time that Kim Jong-il said a war between fellow Koreans was no longer possible. Since taking power in 2008, Lee Myung-bak completely discarded this heritage to declare the policy of his predecessors as “profoundly erroneous.” He terminated disinterested aid and pegged economic ties to would-be benefits South Korea might hope to derive. Seoul advanced other pre-conditions: Pyongyang’s repudiation of nuclear arms, transition to a policy of reform and openness and so forth. Clearly, North Korea dismissed this kind of approach offhand, the political dialogue and contacts through other channels were frozen and misunderstanding and hostility began to pile up in bilateral relations. As a result, South Korea lost initiative and any opportunity to influence Pyongyang. Instead of investing into peace and inter-Korean cooperation, Seoul opted for a much more costly policy of military buildup and modernization.

The events of the early 21st century have repeatedly demonstrated that the international situation may evolve rapidly and very unpredictably, when there occur certain things that just recently seemed utterly incredible. The Cheonan incident is too vague for anyone to make any definite conclusions in someone’s favor. However, whatever the real cause of the maritime tragedy, the main question today is that of preventing still more deplorable consequences, and these do not look incredible.

* * *

At the moment the finishing touches were put to this article the news arrived that the UN Security Council adopted a decision on the international crisis over the ill-fated South Korean corvette. It is a very balanced statement by the UN SC president, worded in a very reserved way. The document contains condemnation of the attack against the South Korean ship, but the perpetrator of the incident is not named. The very mention of North Korea in this context is absent. The statement stressed the need for all parties concerned to display restraint and be guided in their actions primarily by the interests of preserving peace and stability in the Korean peninsula.

The strategy of South Korea and its allies to drive North Korea into submission has not worked. The UN Security Council president’s statement is explicitly neutral. It narrates stories and explanations presented by both Koreas. This is a clear trace of efforts by Moscow and Beijing, which found the evidence collected by Seoul not convincing enough.
We still do not know the conclusions the Russian military experts arrived at, but the results of their work seem to have had a sobering effect on the hotheads in the capitals of a number of countries. Russia’s and China’s stance caused a certain influence on Western opinion, and this is a unique precedent. The consensus achieved at the UN prompts the conclusion the acute crisis seems to have been overcome. This is seen in the North Korean Foreign Ministry’s statement of July 9, in which Pyongyang called for a resumption of discussions on concluding a peace treaty in the Korean peninsula and on the problem of ridding it of nuclear weapons.

Therefore, the UN Security Council’s document, adopted in a dramatic emotional atmosphere, can be regarded as a triumph of common sense, a kind of Solomonic solution. It is aimed first and foremost at eliminating the conflict in the Korean peninsula without antagonizing either party, at giving everyone a chance to present one’s own interpretation of a decision that would calm down the domestic public opinion, accomplish the political task of “saving face” and pave the way for a further dialogue.