In February, 1898, the USS Maine blew up in Cuba. Within two months, the U.S. was at war with Spain.
A similar Maine-like provocation (today’s loss of the South Korean warship Cheonan after an explosion) could tip the tense Korean Peninsula over the edge, changing the game in Asia.
Let’s be blunt: When a warship mysteriously explodes and sinks, the risk of political miscalculation is very, very high.
First, no Navy is eager to identify an avoidable accident as the cause of a lost vessel, and second, if given an a nearby and accessible rival the temptation to accuse the “usual suspects” is overwhelming. Public emotion and
political pressure make a thorough investigation difficult–concrete facts are few, far between and often submerged. In many cases, attribution of an attack is, quite simply, impossible.
Caution is warranted. In Asia, given the proliferation of quiet submarines, sea mines and other potentially lethal items, the potential for third party involvement in an unattributable attack is a small–but growing–risk for countries engaged in tense standoffs.
Torpedoes, mines and UUVs do not come with a “return to sender” address on them.
Though I suspect the usual suspects myself, this sort of an incident could be seen as a high-risk, high-gain opportunity for the right country or terror organization…