The Next Korean War Is No Longer Unthinkable

Kim Jong-un has taken a huge, possibly irreversible, step toward a scenario that every nation — including N. Korea — has been hoping to avoid — a second Korean War. Unfortunately, he’s come closer to that war than he probably understands.

As fearful as Seoul, Washington and Beijing are of a conflagration that will kill thousands (not tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands as some fear, but “only” thousands) and destabilize the global economy, a Pyongyang armed with the mere capability to build a nuclear-tipped long-range ballistic missile is an eventually that will be headed off at any cost.

That’s because that technology in Pyongyang’s hands will quickly find its way to Iran which has convinced the world — perhaps more persuasively than N. Korea — that it would gladly use it, most likely against Israel and the US.

If the explosion detected Monday was indeed a miniaturized uranium device as Pyongyang has claimed in its official news release, the test has opened the Pandora’s box of the world’s entirely justifiable fears about having a nuclear missile — or a suitcase nuke — in the hands of tyrants and terrorists.

The problem is, Pyongyang and its young leader remain under the impression that getting dangerously close to possessing the capability to irradiate Seoul, small US cities or a US military base will dramatically improve its power to extort aid and respectful behavior from the international community. In reality, the US and its allies can’t play that game any longer because it is becoming convinced that the clock is ticking toward the inevitable — transmission of that technology to Iran and possibly to groups like al Qaida.

The calculations have already begun in Washington and Seoul of the damage likely to be sustained by the South’s capital city and the Eighth Army Headquarters in Yongsan if a preemptive strike is launched to take out the centrifuges spinning away to produce more uranium fuel as well as the functioning nuclear reactor breeding plutonium. The generals and the simulation engineers are calculating how many days it will take to silence the thousands of artillery pieces that will emerge from their caves to begin a sustained bombardment of Seoul.

A key parameter of the calculation is the number of days it will take to persuade underfed, demoralized N. Korean troops to turn against their superiors and lay down arms. The bombardment may end in a matter of hours or last up to a week before allied planes and missiles have inflicted enough damage to convince the north’s artillery and commando units of the futility of continuing. In that time up to several thousands of the Seoul metropolitan area’s 24 million inhabitants will be killed or injured. Without doubt several tens of billions of dollars of damage will be inflicted on Seoul’s buildings, infrastructure, cars and economic activity.

A fear that has always loomed large in allied calculations is the possibility that Beijing may join in a counter-attack. Fortunately, over the past decade that prospect has virtually disappeared. Today the fate of Beijing’s ruling clique has become far more deeply intertwined with the fortunes of its exporters than with the state of its notional military alliance with Pyongyang. A generalized war in East Asia is as likely to hurt China’s economy — and the prospects for the Communist Party to hold power — as S. Korea’s or the US’s.

In any event, members of the generation of Chinese who fought in N. Korea in the early 1950s to push the UN forces back south of the 38th parallel have either died off are in their 80s. China’s sentimental attachment to the notion of a blood-alliance with N. Koreans has all but faded from the consciousness of the party leadership with the ascension of Xi Jinping’s generation of leaders who were mostly born after the first Korean War.

Equally important to the China calculation is the fact that Beijing stands to increase its regional influence if the current N. Korean regime is replaced. Economic ties between S. Korea and China have grown to the tipping point at which China is replacing the US as the most important market for S. Korean exports. Younger generations of S. Koreans are chafing at having US military bases on Korean soil. Those bases would have far less justification for existence if N. Korea is either absorbed into the South or is ruled by a less militant regime.

Beijing would have little interest in trying to install a puppet or dependent regime in Pyongyang. Aside from the onerous economic burden of being the primary support of a non-functioning economy, such a regime would only justify a redoubling of the US military presence in the South as well as of the US commitment to support an independent Taiwan as a means to preserve geopolitical balance. Beijing is far more interested in absorbing Taiwan than in becoming a modern-day suzerain to an impoverished and backward N. Korean buffer state.

On the other hand, a peaceful Korean peninsula ruled by Koreans without an American military presence would essentially become an economic satellite of a China that will soon boast the world’s biggest economy. A militarily neutral S. Korea would represent a dramatic easing of China’s current fears of a possible conflict over some insignificant islets or over Taiwan with a US-led alliance with Japan and S. Korea.

For those reasons, in the event of a US-S. Korean attack on N. Korea, China would likely send troops into the North to act as a stabilizing force to prevent a mass exodus of N. Koreans across the Yalu. Once the shooting ends, China would help secure order, then depart in a matter of weeks or months, along with US troops, leaving S. Koreans to organize a new order.

The upside of such an outcome is enormous, not the least of which would be the liberation of 24 million N. Koreans from a regime that has kept them among the world’s most miserable citizens. The prospect of getting in on the ground floor of the rebuilding N. Korea would also have strong appeal with the current generation of China’s leaders with large stakes in the mammoth state firms that would likely win the contracts.



Lin Zexu · Feb 13, 11:09 PM · #

A most ‘remarkable’ article; completely breathtaking in its cavalier disregard of human suffering, loss and damage to be suffered by Asian cities and populations. Just wonder if the writer would be as cavalier if the cities involved are New York, Milwaukee; and the populations involved are WASPs?

Cleo · Feb 14, 07:44 AM · #

Japan is already selling arms and no one is opining that there will be a war against Japan. I think this is just more beating DPRK to send a message to Akihito.

I guess we should thank Psy’s embarassing kill Americans rant as well as the septugenarian murder of two parents, creating five orphans in Texas in addition to all the HGTV Asian homeowners and homebuyers who make it look like first generation Asian Americans have it easier than the majority of Black and Hispanic first generation Americans who make up the bulk of our armed forces. There is no way that Americans will want to fight on behalf of Japan in Asia.

korean_guy · Feb 15, 08:39 AM · #

Psy rants were the result of American GI’s running over two girls with their tanks as well as years of criminal activities conducted by U.S. Military personnel stationed in Korea. One should never loose their head (China take note) and Psy should have used some discretion and tactfulness to his negative sentiment concerning U.S. Military. China please do not tell others to behave in civil manner. China is country of people who react in knee-jerk behavior with the ultimate victim mentality. Had the same happen in China all hell would break loose.

Cleo · Feb 15, 12:09 PM · #

korean guy, I totally disagree. Psy did us all a favor by appearing to be shady and anti-American because now people are not going to blindly believe that there is a security problem where America MUST “protect” Japan – the way we have been acting in public is just exhausting to watch and that is going to make everyone not want to get involved because they subconsciously think that any American act against Asia ex Japan will result in Asia going bananas and bearing grudges and why should we do that for Japan – everbody hates them because Japan earned that disapprobation but America? no way are we getting involved in a “land war in Asia” – we remember Princess Bride very very well who cares if MacArthur said the same thing – Wallace Shawn’s speech impediment is BURNED In Our Brains.

I think it sucks that other Asians have to look bad in order to keep the leash on Japan so we should be grateful to all of them. Thank you Psy – not for sounding untrustworthy and hostile but for making yourself look bad because that protects Korea and the rest of Asia as well as American troops more than if you had allowed your own better true colors shine through.

Sinopuppy · Feb 16, 08:27 PM · #

The scenerio of U.S Military leaving the Korean pennisula would facilitate a Korean Unification. Back in 1951 China proposed the Unification of the Mainland with Taiwan with quid pro quo of North Korea unified with South Korea. United States rejected the proposal. The S.E Asia Maritime disputes can be solved with bilateral diplomacy with retaining the current UN Contiguous zones. EEZ and Continental Shelf claims are deal breakers. China raised the citation of the Cairo Declaration Accord and Potsdam Declaration Accord regarding Japan surrender. In 1972 the United States broke and disregarded the two Accords and via U.S.A Containment Policy towards China gave the Diaoyu Islands to Japan. The dispute between China & Japan will not be resolved in the near future.

Sinopuppy · Feb 17, 02:21 PM · #

I would not underestimate the North Korean or Chinese resolve. In WW2 the Japanese had overwhelming air superiority and firebombed Chinese cities and the Chinese resistance still inflicted approx 794,000 KIA to the Imperial Japanese Army. Chinese & Korean asassinated 7 Japanese officers of general rank from 1 to 2 stars.
During Korean War the United States had overwhelming air superiority and ground support artillery fire power. The Chinese still perservered when Gen.McArthur was at the doorstep of the Chinese border and pushed U.S forces down to 38th Parallel.
It will be a bloodbath again either way. People wishing for war are wishing for death. They should just commit suicide and save the young kids in the armed forces.

Cleo · Feb 20, 06:31 AM · #

Japan and Germany always made a point of retaliating in extreme numbers to discourage further resistence so now that Japan knows it was tsunami bombed and that China has hacked into Akihito’s data storage – all those insulting emails, all that toclafane footage, you dirty ugly old goblin … Japan unlike Germany is incapable of thinking clearly and not resort to a violent outburst. It’s coming but they are calculating how to do it – they never consider NOT to do it. That’s why Abe is constantly pushing forward weak and weird reasons that China is picking a fight with Japan – ooh, you LOOKED at us with your radar, your fireworks are smogging us up, blah, blah.

I really don’t care if some Japanese girl plotzes in Beijing because Maggie shot a Woodbury teenager in a recent episode of “The Walking Dead” and I DOUBT that anyone nonJapanese will sanction a Japanese “response” if they are apparently plotzing all over Mainland China – wth were they doing in China in the first place? WHY didn’t they go home? Chinese people are imploring Chinese to leave Japan – if you don’t, you’ve made your choice.

The Allies KNOW that Japan needs and craves seeing someone on the other side get hurt. They need the voyeurism of a violent event. Do we really need to psychoanalyze the Japanese or have they explained themselves adequately for all the world to see?

so they are going to do something – something in Hong Kong? another boat collision? they have the map of the chemical bombs still buried in China – maybe some kind of large scale accidental detonation?
How many ipods do they need to use to bribe some poor village idiots to engage in a border clash with Asean and vice versa?

Something has to happen – something violent – even if it doesnt’ drag America into protecting them – Japan won’t wait and agree to a peaceful resolution although it will consider to try to appear to be bullied in international press because they refuse to understand that people all over the world do not care about your bitching. Most of us can’t afford your five dollar strawberries and we see no point in preferring one group of Asians over the rest.

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