Dictator Kim Jong-un of North Korea yesterday threatened ‘all-out war’ on his enemies in a dramatic escalation of tension on the Korean Peninsula. He warned troops that there may be an order for ‘a great advance’ and they should be ready to ‘make the first gunfire’ in response to any attack. In recent days, the rhetoric of war has reached fever pitch after North Korea carried out a third nuclear test last month. The UN then imposed stricter financial and export sanctions which led Kim Jong-un to speak of nuclear strikes against the South and the US. He has also severed a hotline to South Korea and torn up a peace pact going back 22 years. The North has also said that it will withdraw from the 1953 armistice. North Korea is famous for such hysterics. One must ask what makes the situation different this time. What is the North seeking? Is there a bigger issue?
The North’s economy is in shambles. It is only a matter of time until its economic woes will be unbearable. How long can the North continue to support its huge military? Given the increasing sophistication of the South Korean military the ability of the North to overpower the South and the US by pure mass is in question. The North Koreans appear to be signaling that new violent incidents are not only possible, but also likely. . However, should the North actually appear to be preparing to attack it would not be surprising if the South would preempt to take out the North’s nuclear capability? This makes any violent incidents by the North much more dangerous. Of course the North may be hoping that this will cause the normal US timidity.
The North Koreans are obviously trying to bluff their way to several things:
- Changing the maritime extension of the DMZ
- Gaining formal recognition from the US both as a country and as a nuclear power
- Reversing all of the sanctions imposed by the United Nations
- Gaining economic assistance
There is a bigger issue involved in the tension on the Korean peninsula is presence of the Iranian Foreign Minister at the recent nuclear test by the North. There has been speculation that North Korea will be the nuclear arsenal holder for the Iranians. (It should be noted that Iran is dependent on North Korea for its missile/rocket technology.) An enhanced Iranian - North Korea axis would suggest that any conflict on the Peninsula could escalate in untold ways. Such an axis would fit the Iranian model of seeking surrogates/allies to deter threats against its growing nuclear processing capability.
A true war on the Korean peninsula would cause huge civilian casualties because of the proximity of Seoul to the DMZ but once such a conflict ran its course the North would lose and the government would be over thrown. If the leadership of North Korea understands this inevitable situation the severity of its bluffs will either escalate or more likely be reduced.