The world is filled with tough guys who say they are going to smash your face in but never throw a punch. Whether it’s a barroom blowhard or Asia’s Big Bluffer, few things irritate me more than a jackass who is long on words and short on action.
Such is the case with Kim Jong-un, who is forever telling the world how big and bad he is. He cuts “all lines of communication” from North Korea…except the military phone that was open until quite recently. He ceases all contact with the outside world…yet until this week he exempted the North-South cooperative that employed hundreds who worked between the two nations daily. He bombards islands…that are sparsely inhabited.
Obviously, in those acts there was collateral damage and some lives lost, but this is mostly the stuff of a hothead punching a wall to demonstrate his strength. Witnesses are supposed to be frightened and they usually are; as long as no one notices, the boaster never actually takes on anyone else and confines himself to attacking plaster.
This is not to say there is no North Korean threat. Any bellicose nation with an unbalanced leader should not be entirely dismissed. Yet Kim is not nearly so unhinged as some would have us think. If he were, those 50,000 troops on the border would have swarmed the South in the middle of the night without so much as a hat tip to Western powers.
Would such a move be suicidal for the regime? Likely. Would it be futile? Eventually. Would it initially succeed? Probably. One can never underestimate the explosive power of 1,000,000 souls of cannon fodder.
There is high likelihood of success in such a maneuver, even in spite of millions of landmines, because almost no high Western (or South Korean) official takes such a threat seriously, at least not if there aren’t any cameras rolling.
American troops are in South Korea not because of North Korea but because of China. These forces are just pawns on the chessboard of global dominance. Were North Korea and China not strategic allies and mutual Western opponents, the United States would have little interest in stationing anyone there.
While a maniacal Kim has only one objective—forceful reunification—the Americans have multiple considerations. How would China react? Might another ground war in Asia remilitarize Japan? What would be the position of the other Western powers, especially now that so many European nations have significant Asian constituencies?
Any American military resistance overcome in the first few hours would likely be the sole response for at least a day, perhaps more. Nuclear weapons would be out of the question. Mass insertion of additional troops and remarshaling the disoriented units already present would take time. That is on the assumption Western populations would be inclined to engage in another conflagration so soon after the two in the Middle East. Even President Peace Prize might have trouble convincing his people to fight another war.
The South Korean army, to the extent it is not a paper tiger, may be overcome for the same reason that few in prominent office take the prospect of invasion seriously. Additionally, estimating prevailing sentiments of citizenry in the South is difficult. Would the populace immediately rush into the street for hand-to-hand combat? It is doubtful. For while Kim has indoctrinated his North that they are in a fight for existence, few ordinary South Koreans see the national schism that way. Moreover, Kim’s people are hungry, and a starving fanatical army will almost always win against a fattened logical one.
Despite the recent bellicosity—actually because of it—we can see that the above scenario will not unfold. A mad dash to Seoul might just succeed before the West could convince itself such a thing was in fact taking place, but it would have to be unexpected. Whatever else one can say of the incrementally increasing tensions, each day’s monotonous intensification is unsurprising.
So Kim may shoot off a few rockets (which will probably crash and almost certainly miss their mark) and he may shuffle his forces around the border region. Still for the most part there is nothing to worry about from any intelligent review of the situation.
This is not to say some people will not be harmed. To save face, Kim will probably have to sink a boat somewhere or shoot up another forlorn bit of sand, and there will be a dozen or more casualties. But it won’t be anything nearly big enough to impel South Korea into a full-scale war.
We can safely ignore all the high drama from the low intellects of our television sets. This is nothing more than political theater of the most repetitious sort. It gives coiffed anchors something to hyperventilate about and delirious lawmakers some reason to throw more funds to their lobbyists.
How can we be certain Kim Jong-un will do nothing? Because he constantly claims he will do something. There is no surer way to recognize a coward. Anyone who is serious about doing something doesn’t diagram it for you beforehand; he simply does it.
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