North Korea - Where Do We Go From Here?

It should be news to no one that North Korea has been upping the rhetoric in the past few weeks regarding its relationship (if you can call it that) with its neighbor to the south as well as with the United States.  Its new leader, Kim Jong Un, has been making increasingly belligerent war noises, starting with the launch of a three-stage rocket in December of 2012, followed by a test of a nuclear device in February of this year.  More recently North Korea severed all “hotline” communications between itself and South Korea.  All through this, Kim shouts bellicosely that NK will “settle accounts” with its enemies.  The latest now is a declaration of war … though with no substantial aggressive action behind that declaration.

Frankly, Kim’s tactics sound a bit too much like that old game of “I dare you to cross over this line, though with each succeeding line closer to the one behind it, mostly because those lines confront a brick wall.  The North Korean government must know that any serious action taken against the South or any ally of the US will likely be met with measured yet unblinking retaliatory action from the United States.  My sense is that somewhere in Kim’s mistaken mind is the idea that we can be goaded into making the first move.  Under the previous administration, he might have gotten his wish.  With the current resident of the White House, I am far more dubious.

What makes this situation much worse is that Kim has left himself with nowhere positive to go.  If he backs down from his threats, he loses face, with the other participants in this farce, with his own people and most seriously of all, with the NK military leaders for whom a great deal of this is intended.  On the other hand, if he actually takes some form of action against his perceived opponents, he and his forces will find themselves being summarily spanked sufficiently hard enough to, one hopes, rethink the wisdom (or lack thereof) of the actions taken to this point.  This last might conceivably be his goal, as well: to be hit hard, but not fatally, so as to warrant reconstruction aid in the aftermath of strikes against his country.  Even this option has the undesirable side-effect of strangers on his turf, delivering that aid, never mind appearing weak in needing that aid.

Put bluntly, Kim Jong Un, for all appearances, is being phenomenally stupid … and eventually may be tasked with paying the price for being stupid.

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Comment by Loren Miller on March 31, 2013 at 12:17pm

The hell of it is, Pat, your proposed outcome is no less probable than most any other.  Hell of a note, eh?

Comment by Pat on March 31, 2013 at 11:41am

I strongly suspect China and the US are having rather "concentrated" discussions about this. The last thing in the word that China wants, is a unified Korea under a western style democracy which is what the South is. That would put a US ally right on the Yalu River. Something China took umbrage with back in 1950. I doubt they've warmed up to that idea in the intervening 63 years. I seriously doubt pudgy boy, Kim Jong Un, is running anything. I suspect it's a group of hardliners in the NK military who are jockeying for greater foreign aid for their country, while playing for power within their own ranks. When China reigns them, as I suspect they are already doing, and they need a "fall guy," it won't be toady boy. They need him for a figurehead. It will be some poor schmuck in the inner circle who will be labeled a traitor, and sent to a Total Control Camp, or die of instantaneous lead poisoning to the back of the head. And, things will go back to what has passed for "normal" since 1953.

Comment by Loren Miller on March 31, 2013 at 11:17am

SB, I think it's entirely possible that, since there is nowhere else to go rhetorically, that Nothing Will Happen ... and Kim will use time to back away from the precipice he has walked up to.  Any further action he takes will have devastating consequences for his country, and it is unlikely that South Korea or the US will conveniently make a blunder to justify Kim's belligerence.

Kim has no choice but to blink.

Comment by Loren Miller on March 30, 2013 at 3:16pm

Ted, I think that Obama is smart enough to take action in a "measured" fashion, as I said before.  If Kim steps over the DMZ, my suspicion is that he can kiss his artillery and any anti-aircraft emplacements goodbye, along with any troops within 20 miles thereof.  I would anticipate similar action if NK attempts any engagement in the Sea of Japan or the Yellow Sea.  I doubt we'd deploy nukes, even if he does.  Between B-52s and B-2s we can hit him hard enough to far more than bloody his nose while sticking with conventional weapons.

As to surprise, he won't get much.  I'd bet you a cup of coffee that there are birds aloft and single-tasked on NK movements and activities as we speak.  Very likely, high altitude, low profile drones are in the mix as well.  They're going to have a rough time so much as sneezing without someone at the Pentagon knowing about it.

As for their people, I wouldn't count on a lot of support.  Too many of them are so totally brainwashed as to consider whoever is in the front office to be a god.  Certainly this was the case with the "Great Leader" and the "Dear Leader" gone before.  I saw a documentary about a ophthalmologist who was doing charity work in NK, frequently restoring sight to those who had been blind or severely visually impaired.  When the bandages came off and the results were nearly universally positive, did the doc get any credit?  Nope - "Dear Leader" was responsible for it all, chapter and verse.

Twenty-plus years ago, Saddam Hussein didn't telegraph his actions or call his shot when he went for Kuwait, and it took time to deal with that situation.  Right now, Kim Jong Un is being about as subtle as a sneeze about what he appears to want to do.  If we DON'T counter him even as he attempts to act, we'll look a lot more foolish than he is.

Comment by Ted Foureagles on March 30, 2013 at 1:47pm

The best that could come of this situation is if all parties are extremely careful to avoid anything that could be remotely construed as aggression until the silly military wang-waving is over.  So for, rhetoric has been the opposite of careful -- let's hope actions don't follow.  A great danger is some sort of 'false flag' incident, ala Gulf of Tonkin.

Kim has a military that's strong enough in numbers to do great harm to South Korea even if his longer range missiles are as inadequate as everyone seem to think they are.  He has promised to hit US interests first, which we could assume to be our 30 or 40,000 troops stationed there.  But he has a 'target rich' environment in the 25 million or so residents of greater Seoul (what -- 50 miles away?) should he decide to go big.  I don't think that even he would launch a nuclear weapon on Seoul, mainly because he still talks of 'reunification' of the peninsula as a main goal.

What do you suppose would be the response if NK made a substantial strike against the south or foreign interests?  I rather doubt that President Obama is going to say, "OK, nuke the fuckers".  More than likely, the US would ring the nation's 3 sides with intimidating military force, much of which is already in place.  They would appeal to China and Russia, probably successfully, to help enforce a strangling land, sea & air blockade.  If NK lost China, and this comes closer to happening every day, their goose would be cooked.  A total blockade would kill off much of the population that is already half- starved, unlike doing it slowly with leaky sanctions.

I don't think that this would incite North Koreans to rise up against their government in significant force.  On the contrary, it might cause them to rally to the flag as we've seen happen so many times with sanction regimes against other nations.  Then come half-hearted, ineffectual appeals to the UN, followed by sorta-secret drone warfare that serves to bring in outside defensive mercenaries and funds from non-governmental groups in Asia.

By the time things have gone to hell in a handbasket it's 2016, and a frightened & reactionary US elects right-wing hardliners (perhaps Hillary) eager to turn up the gas.  A million US troops are sent to South Korea and the next world's largest 'embassy' is built.  China gets pissed off and just buys Halliburton, and then the shit hits the fan.



Comment by Loren Miller on March 30, 2013 at 1:14pm

Dustin, I think our attention needs to be on both places, especially since Iran too often appears to want to emulate North Korea's stupidity ... and because too many islamic extremists have demonstrated a desire to have nukes ... So They Can USE Them.

I don't see either situation as being particularly tolerable.

Comment by Dustin Roy on March 30, 2013 at 12:49pm

The United States should be focusing on North Korea right now not Iran.

Comment by John Aultman on March 30, 2013 at 11:38am

I wonder if there are detractors within the regime that want to remove him and take his place.  If this is the case he may be trying to show them he is up to the task of being the "great leader".  My worry is how far will he go to make his point. 



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