Anyone who does not take the North Korean dictator’s threat, Kim Jong Un, seriously is foolish. Some months ago I wrote about my own personal experiences in Korea. The recent sabra rattling tells me that not much has changed.
The Korean people as a whole find their heritage in China. Not withstanding that, North Korea’s best ally used to be the Soviet Union, not China. That is an important distinction because since the fall of the Soviet Union, North Korea has found itself even more isolated than it was before. Thought they share a common ideology with China, Communism, China has always held its neighbor at arm’s length. China has not openly warred on any nation in over 100 years, and it is unlikely it has any such interest today. They are not about to be drawn into anything by North Korea. And while North Korea undoubtedly still gets technology and arms from Russia, it no longer can count on that country as an ally, as in the old Soviet days.
When I arrived in South Korea in 1968, what I saw was an armed and tense camp. The armistice with the north was but 13 years old, and memories of that war were still fresh. Think of it this way: the US Civil War ends in an armistice where both sides retain sovereignty but refuses access to its soils by the other side. The good people of Maryland want to visit their relatives in Virginia but are not allowed to. That is exactly what happened, and is still going on, in the Koreas. In the late 60s and early 70s, the cold war took on a whole different flavor in the far east. What you had were two countries who wanted to war with each other but were prevented from doing so by their allies, America and the Soviet Union. It was seen then that an escalation of hostilities into a nuclear war were not far fetched. Kim Jong Un’s father, Kim Il-sung, vowed that he would reunited the Koreas by force. The South Koreans fully expected such a war and were prepared for it. Kim Il-sung shot down an American spy plane, an EC-121, and fired upon the USS Pueblo in an attempt to capture it. The ship’s captain allowed the ship to be taken. North Korea held the ship for a year before releasing it. What this says is, North Korea was not then afraid to carry out its threats, and we have no reason to believe that it will not follow through on threats it makes today. In North Korea’s mind, at least, a lot is at steak.
The US intelligence community believes that North Korea as most has medium range missiles, with an outside range of about 3000 miles. That renders the entire U.S. and Guam and Hawaii outside its range. But well within its range are US allies, South Korea and Japan. The Japanese have already expressed deep concerns about North Korea’s threats, as well they should. It is not unreasonable to think the North Koreans still harbor resentments arising from Japan’s World War 2, and before, occupation of the Korean peninsula.
The west’s best hope against North Korea’s carrying through on any of its threats may lie with senior North Korean military leaders. These men would necessarily know the consequences of declaring a war on any country. Regardless of who North Korea attacked, it would be viewed as an attack on US interests. Japan is still allowed only a defense force and would necessarily rely upon the U.S. for its defense, something I am certain we would do. South Korea, on the other hand, has a very large, well-trained and well-equipped military which could hold its own against an incursion from the north.
It is impossible to predict what the North Korean dictator has in mind, what his plans are, and what he is willing to do. North Korea’s unpredictability rendered it a pariah in the communist sphere because of this. And it is exactly this reason that any and all threats made by North Korea must be taken very seriously, and be considered in a “worst possible scenario.”