North Korea: World War III?

It’s easy to look at what’s happening currently in North Korea with an air of panic. A nuclear test here, resumption of nuclear reprocessing there, with treaty abandoning and missile lobbing to add to a worryingly volatile mix, and you have a cornerstone of the ‘Axis of Evil’ frighteningly playing up to the caricature painted of it by Dubbya. Sanctions haven’t worked, diplomacy hasn’t worked, and now North Korea is aggressive and nuclear – what’s Obama to do, particularly because this is also clearly the first big foreign policy test his enemies have chosen to level at him? Attack in some fashion (or encourage Pyongyang to do so through the slightest recklessness) and he risks World War – the Japanese, Chinese, Russians and NATO would intervene in moments and we all lose – terminally. Do nothing whilst South Korea sweats, and he looks weak; Obama clearly doesn’t relish the prospect of being seen as a neo-Jimmy Carter. Simon Tisdall offers Kagan & Blumenthal’s argument that Obama has now to risk a game changing strategy with China in order to make this change decisively:

The idea that Washington and Beijing shared a common strategic interest in “solving” North Korea was false, Kagan and Blumenthal said. “In theory, China could pressure Kim to give up his weapons … But the fact is, China doesn’t want to. Beijing is content to live with a nuclear and anti-western North Korea. While China fears a collapsed North that would flood its struggling north-east with refugees, it also fears a unified, democratic, prosperous Korea allied with the US. China wants a puppet state in North Korea.”

Taking on China over North Korea is the option entailing the most strategic risk. It is the sort of game-changing, Nixon-like demarche that distinguishes great foreign policy presidents from great talkers. Given the current balance of political, diplomatic and economic forces, Obama could probably do it. But it would take great courage.

Now’s the big test – he’s all mouth on some domestic issues, and he still hasn’t played his hand fully on some foreign issues (notably Israel/Palestine). What’s he prepared to risk to get the outcome he wants (and unlike his idiotic predecessor I hope he actually has a concrete idea of what he wants)?


8 responses to “North Korea: World War III?

  1. it is time the world unites against the senseless minority

  2. I don’t really see the concern. While most of the nations and groups you mentioned would likely get involved, it is reasonable to expect that they would get involved on our side, with the possible exception of China.

    Frankly, if China intervened on behalf of North Korea, a marginally possible thing, that would ensure that the Russians would side with us. 🙂

    North Korea doesn’t last long at that point.

  3. I think the only real worry is Pyongyang’s rhetoric rising above an upper threshold, after which actual deeds become likely. The Russians clearly already side with us on this, it’s just really a question of what quiet diplomacy Obama can assert with the Chinese who also have no interest in this breaking out into a ‘hot’ war. They’ve sat on their hands too long and need an incentive to change the game somehow.

    For now it’s pretty meaningless for North Korea to say it’s abandoning its commitment to the armistice on the peninsula unless they actually come out fighting. Most people forget there was no post-war treaty for either side to adhere to.

  4. I have to say that this test and a rather quick tech from a simple nuclear test to an inter-continental ballistic missile is something to worry about.

    This entire turn of events seems to be a huge step toward war.

  5. Strategically we must not attack NK. infact we should keep pushing diplomacy in that region. and allow UN. course of action to weaken there economy and that regime. we must also destroy all of the poppy crops in Afghanistan and then leave. we

  6. Many things happen internationally but most of them aren’t a concern to people. Things come and go in the world. But in 2009 as time went on something sparked in the world. Something that wasn’t unnoticeable and it is an issue that concerns me and many others.
    Half of the year passed by with plenty of surprises, N1H1 concerned many folks but that was overcome. However this issue just sparked in the world and can lead to catastrophe. In this past month of June I saw on the news that North Korea was startling many countries with its threats of nuclear war. So people think is this the beginning of world war 3? The media explained the tests of nuclear warheads and how North Korea has threatened to start something if anyone intercepts. I wasn’t quite worried but I was surprised and concerned. I wondered what would happen to humankind if this war actually happened. This thought that was barely in my mind and quickly became a concern. Weeks flew past and North Korea started to become fragilely close to starting a war.
    This is concern is important to me in different ways. First of all North Koreas main target is the U.S I assume from all those quotes I’ve seen. To back that up our safety isn’t so great. This instability of the world is also becoming harsher because our fossil fuels are becoming rare so the prices would rise and also global economy isn’t solid. If there was to be a problem in the world it would be certain that cash flow would cause a problem. People are losing their jobs constantly and if a war were to start it would be hard to feed families. Secondly safety is a huge issue. Not everyone can hide in safe places. It could cost a lot of money to travel somewhere in limited time. We’ve learned from history and civilians know going through times like this can be tough. Lastly family is the most important. Families get separated easily through struggles like war. Some people may be drafted, others need to find jobs to support each other and still get proper education.

  7. its like a game of chess

  8. Ok I’m 17 and I’m pretty aware of worldy issues for the most part. But what I don’t get is how can any SMART nation continue to let NK flaunt its tiny pair of balls around and try and intimidate people? I say how about we pull a hiroshima and just take out the whole area…I know that maybe. Harsh but why let them possibly cause WW3 when we could just lose them?

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