Avoiding the Unthinkable

As evidence mounts that the South Korean warship sunk last March was indeed brought down by a North Korean torpedo, tensions in Korea are rising. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has pronounced economic sanctions on the North which has reportedly begun to ready troops.

The intentional sinking of a foreign naval vessel is certainly cause to go to war. In effect it is a declaration of war. However, we cannot be sure that the sinking was intentional or planned and more importantly, no one wants another war in East Asia.

The United States, already declaring that it will stand with South Korea, maintains strong ties with the country and would probably be dragged into any conflict followed possibly by China on the side of the North. A battle between two world superpowers is precisely what the international community has been avoiding since the end of World War II.

American secretary of state Hillary Clinton has been in Beijing trying to convince China to side with South Korea and support action in the UN Security Council. The word is still out on how successful she will be.

While no one wants a war, it is almost inevitable that North Korea will reach meltdown stage at some point in the near future. It has already lasted as long or longer than other communist countries that were forced to enact fundamental reforms in the face of unsustainable levels of misery and poverty on the part of their people.

The ray of hope in this situation is that it cannot be in the interest of North Korea to go to war again. As it is, the North is left free to abuse and destroy its own people. They cannot hope to take on the South with America funding and militarily supporting it; all the more so because South Korea has gone through an extended period of growth and advancement while the North stagnated. South Korea is much more fit at this stage for a confrontation. Nuclear weapons notwithstanding, North Korea is no match for its counterpart.

The best we can hope for in this situation is that North and South Korea will do nothing more than rattle their sabers across the cease fire line until North Korea implodes on its own. Economic sanctions and slaps on the hand from the UN Security Council will do nothing while the alternative, all out war, is unthinkable.

One comment

  1. In this case, I think UN action could accomplish something actually. For one thing, a Security Council resolution needs Chinese support or at the very least, them abstaining from voting. In either event, Beijing will sent a powerful signal to North Korea that it cannot support the regime no matter what it does.

    What’s more, economic sanctions will help accelerate the process of the North’s inevitable economic collapse. Already, the country is in a dire state, it’s people under constant threat of famine and depravation with the State utterly incapable, of course, at directing the economy.

    The real danger is that the North Korean leadership is truly as insane as it pretends to be and would use nuclear weapons in an armed confrontation with the South. Remember, Seoul is just 30 miles away from the border. As I noted a couple of days ago, the South’s retaliatory options are limited indeed…

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