Donald Trump seems intent on making childish belligerent noises over North Korea and this is concerning because bellicose rhetoric (such as considering doing some “very severe things”) has the effect of raising the stakes and expectations. This can create its own dynamic and lead to Trump doing something rash because to not take action after talking tough would make him (at least in his own eyes and those of his supporters) look weak, and for such weak-minded people that is something to be avoided at all costs.
In order to understand how we got to this state, professor Ji-Young Lee of American University provides a brief history of the region and how the split occurred
Koreans in the South and North have led separate lives for almost 70 years. Korean history and a collective memory of having been a unified, independent state for over a millennium, however, are a powerful reminder to Koreans that they have shared identity, culture and language.
For example, in both Koreas the history of having resisted Japanese colonialism is an important source of nationalism. Both North and South Korean students learn about the 1919 March 1 Independence Movementin school.
Consider, too, the Korean language. About 54 percent of North Korean defectors in South Korea say that they have no major difficulty understanding Korean used in South Korea. Only 1 percent responded that they cannot understand it at all.
However, the divergent politics of North and South Korea have shaped differences in Koreans’ outlook on life and the world since the split. South Korea’s vibrant democracy is a result of the mass movement of students, intellectuals and middle-class citizens. In North Korea, the state propaganda and ideology of Juche, or “self-reliance,” were used to consolidate the Kim family’s one-man rule, while reproducing a certain mode of thinking designed to help the regime survive.
In the first ten minutes radio program The World, two analysts discussed what the latest ICBM test by North Korea means and what might be a prudent course to follow. The first speaker says that even if the missile has a range that could reach the US, this does not mean that they will attack the US, as the fearmongers here are warning. The North Korean leaders may be ruthless and rigid but they are not suicidal. The leaders of Russia and China seem to realize this and are trying to head off any military action. It is clear that the North Korean leaders have seen that countries that do not have their own deterrents are at the mercy of the US. Once both Iraq and Libya dismantled any putative nuclear weapons program, the US invaded them and created chaos.
This article looks at the options available but as usual frames them in a very propagandistic way, as if the US has the right to attack other countries
As Greitens told me, there are basically three broad options Trump can choose from: 1) military strikes; 2) diplomacy; or 3) economic sanctions. But here’s the rub: option one is incredibly dangerous, and options two and three have a mixed track record at best.
The diplomatic option would see the US try to come to some sort of agreement with North Korea to either give up its programs or, at a minimum, freeze their development. Over the past few decades, though, North Korea has shown no desire to follow any agreements, consistently breaking accords with the US and its partners and covertly advancing its nuclear weapons and missile efforts.
The article assumes that the US can be trusted to keep its agreements, something that is debatable at best. But the cost of military action is very high.
If the US is worried North Korea might make the first move, though, it could launch a preemptive surgical strike on North Korea. It would certainly do damage to the country’s missile and nuclear programs. But North Korea would retaliate, imperiling the safety of US allies South Korea and Japan.
Pyongyang has the world’s largest artillery arsenal at its disposal, with around 8,000rocket launchers and artillery cannons on its side of the demilitarized zone between the North and South, and it could use that arsenal to strike the major capital of Seoul. It could also use its short-range missiles to strike Tokyo and other large Japanese urban areas, some of them with only about a 10-minute warning.
But a fight between the North and South would be bad enough. Simulations of a large-scale artillery fight produce pretty bleak results. One war game convened by the Atlantic back in 2005 predicted that a North Korean attack would kill 100,000 people in Seoul in the first few days alone. Others put the estimate even higher. A war game mentioned by the National Interest predicted Seoul could “be hit by over half-a-million shells in under an hour.” Those results don’t bode well for one of Washington’s closest allies, or for the 25.6 million people living in Seoul.
This is something that the two Koreas should be left to solve for themselves without outside countries meddling. Who knows, freed from neo-Cold War concerns, they might come to an agreement. Even though North and South Korea have taken wildly different political and economic paths, it does not seem far-fetched that countries that have a string common ethnic heritage but were split for political reasons can become united again. It happened with Germany and Vietnam and there is some talk of Greek and Turkish Cypriots joining again.