Certainly unneeded.  And a bit scary with the bellicosity of the DPRK- North Korea.  But the Korean Peninsula is now locked into a contest of wills with the public accusation by South Korea - following an investigation of the torpedoing of the South Korean naval vessel Cheonan – that the DPRK was responsible for the sinking.  

The course of action for South Korea and its allies is not exactly clear.  However, it is likely that South Korea will end what is left of the cooperation strategy that was commenced by the predecessors to the current president, Lee Myung-bak.  South Korean Defense Minister Kim Tae-young indicated that Seoul would work with the international community to agree on non-military sanctions against the DPRK.  Thus it is likely that we will see a sanctions resolution before the Security Council in relatively short order.  Secretary of State Clinton on her way to China (more on that visit in a moment) condemned the DPRK in Tokyo and indicated that the US would work to marshal an international response to North Korean actions.  Clinton indicated the seriousness of the sinking stating, “… this will not, and cannot be, business as usual.” (Mark Landler, “Clinton Condemns Attack on South Korean Ship,” NYT, (Friday, May 21, 2010)).

Now what does this have to do with summits?  Well, it is evident that South Korea has repositioned its immediate focus - likely its bureaucrat attention - to the Peninsula and the action of the ‘folks’ in North Korea.  Now this crisis may pass quickly.  But I’m not betting on it.  The DPRK thrives on attention and international focus.  If the crisis lingers it could well drain the concerted attention that South Korea has paid up to this point to the November G20 Leaders Summit for Seoul. 

Additionally the effort to punish the DPRK could undermine the good relations that South Korea and other traditional powers such as the US have sought to develop with the China.  If China remains skeptical over the cause of the sinking and expresses caution over a concerted international action – not to mention unwillingness to sanction the DPRK through a Security Council action – relations could quickly sour.  There is much speculation now over how much time will now be taken up on Monday and Tuesday in Beijing at the annual S&ED (Security and Economic Development) meeting between China and the United States with discussions over the sinking and efforts to encourage China to support international sanctions.

A focus on the Korean Peninsula in the China-US meeting would be an unhappy signal for global governance action.  

The opinions expressed in this article/multimedia are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIGI or its Board of Directors.