Samuel Kerr says the North Korean issue needs a Chinese solution
The situation on the Korean peninsula is starting to have a whiff of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The recent speculation about a potential missile test by the North along with the withdrawal of workers from the Kaesong industrial complex, and the encouragement to foreign government s to remove workers from their embassies, seemingly looks like a country preparing for war.
International observers have claimed that this is nothing more than sabre rattling from North Korea’s new semi-divine dictator. There is certainly some credence in this. Kim Jong Un does need to present a strong image to his generals in order to cement his rule. However the problem is that we just don’t know what this 30 year old absolute ruler is going to do.
There is a serious worry that Kim Jong Un has backed himself into a corner with all his military rhetoric. If he does nothing and backs down now then his military will see him as weak and his political survival will be unsure. He sees himself as the unequivocal god king of North Korea, therefore this makes negotiation difficult. It has always been a North Korean belief that the country of Korea should be untied under North Korean rule. This is at least the view we get from the west because in reality we don’t know what the intentions of the North Korean leadership are.
If there were to be a situation it is unlikely to be the World War III apocalyptic event that people are prophesising. A conflict would most likely be regional starting with focused missile attacks on South Korean targets followed by small forces pushing into the south be sea followed by a final assault on the de-militarized zone. Before the third action took place we would see a definitive response by the US and South Korea which would focus on pushing the DPRK’s soldiers back north and responding with air attacks and missile fire. It is highly unlikely that nuclear weapons would be deployed.
This is unlikely to happen and if we do see military action it is likely to be similar to the shelling of South Korean islands or an attack on South Korean ships. This would show his generals that Kim Jong Un is serious about being a strong leader and is ready to challenge the imperialist US and the South. The problem is that South Korea will respond and the US would respond this would potentially start the process that I spoke about before.
However this once again is speculation based upon the policies of the previous regime. We have no way of knowing what Kim Jong Un is planning and have no way of knowing if this is rhetoric or something far more serious.
One of the major drivers in this debate is China. China is the major contributor to North Korea and its only serious ally. The only way of diplomatically getting through to the North Koreans is through Beijing. China does not want a war on the Korean peninsula; it’s not good for business. This is a major opportunity for the new Chinese leadership to prove that they can exert significant influence over their errant ally and bring the North Koreans back into check.
The problem remains that Kim Jong Un considers himself to be the semi divine successor of the Kim dynasty. His grandfather Kim Il Sung is essentially god in North Korea and therefore he is the descendent of this founding deity. The North Koreans worship their leader and would die to protect him and their country. This makes a possible military response to any Korean aggression problematic. The rhetoric here in the United States is that any war on the Korean peninsula will lead to the destruction of the North and the unification of Korea under the rule of the South.
War with North Korea would without a doubt make the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq look like a police action. This is a country with the world’s largest army per head of population, a fanatical population and nuclear weapons that may be used in order to try and secure their survival. The cost of the war would run potentially into the hundreds of billions and could claim the lives of millions potentially on both sides. This is to say nothing of the potential military involvement of China which would turn a terrible situation into one that is utterly unthinkable.
We must watch North Korea very carefully because while all out war on the Korean peninsula is not an option that any in the West should be entertaining at the moment. This is a risky game of political chess and whilst Kim Jong Un will undoubtedly lose if he goes on the attack, the costs of defeating him would be vast and at the moment too tragic to begin to comprehend.