The North Korean Threat
The circumstances we face after the newest actions taken by North Korea
As of today, North Korea is regarded to many places as one of the biggest threats in our world. Despite warnings of "fire and fury" (Donald Trump) and military action by US officials, their pursuance of a nuclear policy has continued to escalate exponentially. In the most recent of days, North Korea has threatened with a detailed course of action on striking Guam (and the military bases of the US on it), daringly fired a ballistic missile over Japanese territory in their latest missile test, and as of only a few weeks ago, have tested their 6th underground nuclear explosion in their country. This came hand in hand with their statement that they have developed a working hydrogen bomb that could be used in a long-range ICBM, creating a state of tension for the whole world, not just our East and Southeast Asian allies.
Statements on the recent hydrogen bomb and nuclear detonation are redundant as it has only happened recently and along with a myriad of similar actions. James Mattis has alluded to what he called a “massive military response” if America, its allies, or its territories are attacked or physically threatened by North Korea.
In more recent days, approximately the last 2 weeks, it has escalated even further. After this 6th test, the UN decided to put sanctions on textiles coming from North Korea (which had been one thing they avoided since it was a large aspect of the North Korean economy). Not unexpectedly, North Korea had quite the response. This has included saying they will sink Japan with it no longer being necessary to exist, that the US should be “beat like a rabid dog,” and that they will turn the US mainland into “ashes and darkness.” Not long after, they fired a, for a while completely unidentified, missile over Japanese airspace heading east for the second time (an obvious act of aggression). Increased sanctions on our side, as well as more frequent and severe acts of aggression on their side, are rapidly escalating the situation, perhaps at some point to a degree where it will be too late unless we do something before then.
What does the future hold?
While North Korea holds an area size close to that of just the state of Pennsylvania, a militarized attack would not be as easy and simple as it seems and would have many other factors coming into play.
One of those factors is the safety of our allies in the region, most notably South Korea and Japan, and what they would experience should a full-scale war break out. In addition, North Korea can very easily do drastic damage even if they fail to strike the US; should any major economic city, in this case Seoul or Tokyo, be hit by an attack, the world’s economy would drop massively and it would cause monetary issues all over the world (all without needing to ever touch the United States).
Regardless of its small size, Korea has been an issue to fight throughout history as well. Established at the 38th parallel (dividing North Korea roughly in half), is a militarized border that divides land we took (South Korea) with land we couldn’t (North Korea) during the Korean War. While we may have been the world superpower (both then and now), hand in hand with Russia at the time, we still had a difficult time with fighting there, and that can even be seen today in the several Middle Eastern wars.
So the future becomes very blurred and hazy for the world where one event could change anything. However relatively, THAAD and AEGIS, two systems currently being further developed for anti-ballistic missile purposes, are being used carefully. In addition, the nuclear bombs between the United States and Russia during the end of the Cold War were in numbers to destroy every piece of surface area on Earth several times over. Therefore the future of a tense, straining, Cold War-type world versus that of a militarized war-torn one is debatable, and nobody truly knows the answer. However, war is becoming more and more imminent for the world as these events keep occurring.
What in history is relevant to these events and the future?
The relevance of history in these events falls, for the most part, to 3 categories: World War II with its importance of the Nazi rise and the state of Japan, the Cold War and its proxy wars as well as Russia at the end of World War II, and the effectiveness of the United Nations.
The Nazi rise leading to the start of the second World War was very much in line with and due to the way Germany was left after the end of the first World War. After the Treaty of Versailles, they agreed to terms including the reparations they had to pay and the laws they had to follow, Germany was economically crushed to the point where they were restricted on almost everything, including a military budget. This state we left them in was useful socially and culturally as fuel to help the rise of Nazi Germany. This begins becoming evident in the solution with North Korea. Crushing their country and leaving them helpless would be very dangerous and could easily lead to another Communist rise, which makes James Mattis’ “We are not looking for the annihilation of North Korea” much more understandable (as well as having to deal with the international community for such an action). In addition, understanding the culture and ideology of North Korea is essential in understanding how they need to be dealt with. While at the end of World War II we corrected our mistake in how we left countries at the end of the war, we met a new foe, the ideology of Japan at the close of the war. For years throughout history, back all the way to the Shogun, the military leader was the unofficial ruler of the country while the political leader served as the figurehead. During World War II the same occurred in which General Tojo controlled the war but Emperor Hirohito was the figurehead. While we issued terms of surrender such as the Potsdam Declaration to Japan, it was because of Hirohito and how the public viewed him (like Kim Jong Un) that made these useless. The ideology of your leader being given the right to rule from a divine source, and even in many cases being considered divine himself, has been used throughout history for the heavy consolidation of power and unification of people. While we may fight, the soldiers of North Korea will never be subdued by force (unless extreme, like the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki), as there is an ideology that exists through Kim that makes the entire issue far more complicated than just war.
The Cold War, better considered the war of Capitalism vs Communism, was very far from a single war. While it never had any military conflicts between the two sides, a variety of proxy wars including Vietnam and Korea took place under the same ideological battle. What becomes important to understand is that while the Cold War has ended, the tension between both systems has not and, to some extent, the war that may take place with Korea can be considered a proxy war yet again. It can even be said to the point that a sustained period of tension like today’s with North Korea can be considered a smaller, second Cold War (to an extent), as to this point it has followed a very similar path only in a much smaller time period.
In terms of allies, most of the world would stand on our side, however, the state of things are far more complex than just that. We may find allies in Europe (England, Germany, France, etc) however many that support us would stay out of the war, as Europe is having economic and stability problems of their own right now (the most likely to support our side would probably be England, with few of problems mentioned). Japan and South Korea would side with us and likely take part in the conflict, as their countries are in more immediate danger than even ours is, making North Korea an even bigger threat to them. The rest of the world would not likely make historically significant headway in battle, aside from these few countries, but in addition, we have Russia and China to analyze. Historically, China has been an ally of North Korea, however, have been recently changing this trend. Though they may side with our side (as a war against the US would be worldly dangerous and we are a far bigger trading and economically important ally to them), there would be small chance of a joint military action as they themselves are communist (to an extent, as Deng Xiaoping opened the country up to capitalism). However, China would very improbably do this because they would likely step in and try to control the situation long beforehand (regardless of to what extent they actually could). Russia, on the other hand, is even more interesting, and its actions during World War II are part of this important interpretation. While they may not agree with the capitalist ideology nor want to get involved in a war when not being actively threatened, the land of North Korea may be important to them. The general school taught reason for the dropping of the nuclear bombs in World War II was to end the war quickly and to save both American and Japanese lives (in the long run), however, this is only partially true. While Russia was an ally, the mindset that started the Cold War was becoming prevalent in the minds of the world. Toward this period, Russia was preparing a ground invasion of Japan and it was clear that, if they were the ones who took it, they would have a claim to the land at the end of the war, something no capitalist country (especially America) wanted. This idea can very much be carried over because the land of North Korea may be a desire to Russia. While a relatively small area, especially compared to Russian territory, it would be very helpful in economic interactions both across the Pacific and in Southeast Asia, something that any country would want to have from an economic standpoint.
Finally, it's worth noting the history that the United Nations has. They, as an international peacekeeping force, have been almost unbelievably unsuccessful, in which even several genocides have happened under their watch. For instance, after sending in a peacekeeping force to deal with the violence leading up to the Rwandan Genocide, a couple of the peacekeepers were shot and killed. After less than a month, the force was gone and had abandoned the entire region in which 800,000 people were slaughtered. It is worth noting that the most likely reason this happened, while we fight wars for years in the Middle East, is resources; The Middle East has abundant oil, while Rwanda and the other regions that have experienced genocide have none. In summary, it's not profitable to go to war there, which, as pessimistic as it sounds, is likely one of the main reasons they only happen in places like these. This brings in an interesting debate as to how the international community would have to handle this dilemma, as they would likely receive little to no help from the United Nations like the several times the same has happened in history (including the empty threats it has already made to North Korea and several others in history in which no substantial action was ever taken afterwards).
While it would be reckless for anyone to push an ideal solution with the massive complexity of the way the world works, it’s clear that an understanding of history, culture, politics, economics, and a variety of other factors are essential to interpretation and correct decision-making. In terms of North Korea, while a true answer may never exist, the consistent adaptability and advancement of modern nations is a key factor of survival and success and we must continue to hone these relations if we hope to find the best solution that we can to this complex problem.
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