With DPRK in the news again, a lot of comments are popping up that I’d like to challenge (return fire is welcome).
1. China has DPRK’s Back This is not at all true. In almost every global theater, China prefers the status quo. China’s top trade partners are the US, Japan, Taiwan, and the ROK. They don’t want to upset that by warring with any parties. A rapidly destabilized peninsula will hit the Chinese bank hard when ROK is forced to turn its economy inward to reconstruction. Also, China would be deluged with a wave of refugees it frankly does not want. Beyond that, neither the PRC or DPRK is genuinely communist anymore, and ideology only slightly unites them. China’s play will be to defuse the situation.
2. A fight would be an easy win for the ROK/Allied Coalition Not really. The DPRK has a ton of artillery pointed south. Even a short salvo of fire would devistate Seoul and ROK infrastructure and economy. Partisans are dug into caves and will fight independently after the lights go out in Pyongyang for good. Most importantly, there is the matter of (up to a dozen) nuclear warheads. Yes, most of their launch attempts have failed, but say a dozen go up, it only takes one to do serious damage in the ROK, Japan, US forward bases, or if shit gets nuts, even China. None of the regional players want to risk that.
3. Kim Jong-Il/DPRK is Crazy/Irrational Nope. Fucker (yes, he is a fucker) knows exactly what he is doing. Take the big picture view, and you see one of the world’s poorest states stringing along the USA, China, ROK, Japan, Russia, the UN, and everyone else. The guy has secured foreign aid in fuel, cash and food from the most powerful nations on earth through an elaborate poker game. Looking at the scorecard, he’s doing pretty good with a hand full of nothing.
Kim Jong Il wants financial and security guarantees from the USA. He lost his patron in the Soviet Union, and PRC isn’t good enough. The only way he can get leverage over us is through terror. The man isn’t crazy, but he is criminal: DPRK has its fingers in drugs, arms, prostitution, animal smuggling—anything. A military strike would have asymmetric stakes for us. Are we willing to commit anything it takes to win? He is. Will we trade Tokyo for Pyongyang? His fight is existential, not ideological. A military strike should not be on the table.
I don’t know the golden solution, but one tactic might be to ask KJI and his kids: at what number of US dollars, cars, bottles of hennesy, and guaranteed personal safety will you walk away and retire in exile? It’s unsavory, but so is any fucking war.