Search This Blog

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Tempest in a Teacup

The two Koreas have been "on the brink of war", or at least, on the brink of rekindling an existing war which had burned down to embers, since the Armistice was signed in 1953. So, the fact that we again find the Koreas rattling their respective sabers is not altogether surprising. North Korea has been spoiling for a fight for decades. What makes this period of time potentially different is that subsequent to the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan and the artillery shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, South Korea is now spoiling for war even more than the North. Which, I imagine, was the point of the attacks.

Last week New Mexico's governor Bill Richardson met with North Korea to try to "turn it down a notch", and it seems he may have succeeded. South Korea carried out its previously scheduled military exercises this week, and as of this writing North Korea has responded only with more of the same rhetoric they've been spouting for years. This may be as much of a stand-down as we can hope for at this point. If the two Koreas revert to hurling harsh words at each other instead of ordnance, that's more than fine in my book. Absolutely no good can come of Korea's personal cold-war turning hot. It is almost impossible to imagine some 20,000,000 troops engaged in combat on a peninsula only a little bigger than Florida, the South armed with some of the most technologically advanced war machines in the world and the North armed only with 1950's vintage Soviet-era relics, but lots and lots of them. And chemical, biological and atomic weapons.
We can only hope that diplomacy, or at the very least a somewhat enlightened sense of self-preservation, will keep the tinder box from being sparked.

North Korean Romeo class attack submarine

South Korean Sohn-Wonyil class attack submarine


  1. "Tempest in a teacup" - well maybe. As a student of history one is reminded that The Great War/World War 1 started with a pistol shot fired by Princip in Sarajevo that killed Archduke Ferdinand. The Czar of all the Russias supported Serbia since Austro-Hungray had decided to punish Serbia. After that it all went downhill rapidly and the world changed forever. My current reading is "Fall of Giants" by Ken Follett which tells the story brilliantly and of course my own family history from the British Royal Navy aspect. Nobody wins a war they just exhaust the otherside first.
    Good Watch.

  2. Agreed. The Korean peninsula is a "teacup" in size only; a full-scale war there would likely surpass anything which has happened since WW2 as far as the sheer scope of it (Israel, for example, is an even tinier teacup with potential for a much bigger tempest).

    But unlike Sarajevo in 1914, however large a conflict happens in Korea it is unlikely to escalate very far beyond Korea's borders, as much as North Korea would like that to be the case. The sad fact for North Korea is that they simply have no allies in the theater. China and Viet Nam, for all of their stated support for the North, frankly have everything to lose and nothing to gain by backing Kim Jong-il or Kim Jong-un. The PRC actually stands to gain a lot of ground politically in the region and around the globe if they were to support South Korea militarily. I doubt that this is likely, at least overtly, but they have to be at least considering it.
    There is some possibility that China could use a war on the Korean peninsula to distract from an invasion of Taiwan, but I'd consider this possibility to be pretty remote. China and Viet Nam both stand to benefit the most from cooperating with South Korea and her other allies, all of whom are much bigger trading partners for China and Viet Nam than North Korea will likely ever be.

    In any serious armed conflict, all of the countries in and out of the region are going to dog-pile on North Korea, and they will eventually hand North Korea its butt on a silver plate. The problem is that North Korea knows this all too well, and so knows that it has absolutely nothing to lose by unleashing all of its assets at any available target, because once war begins there really are no further consequences for North Korea.

    Typically when two or more warring factions both develop nuclear arsenals, it leads to detente. This was true for NATO, the Warsaw Pact and China, and it was later true for India and Pakistan; it may even eventually prove to be true for Israel and Iran. But in each of these cases each country had everything to lose and nothing to gain by using nuclear weapons against their opponent. North Korea at this point truly has nothing left to lose. Worse, they have very little to gain even by not engaging in war. North Korea knows it cannot attain any form of victory, either by fighting or by choosing not to fight. So all that is left for it is to make a really huge mess. And that, they have the capability to achieve.

    It is only slightly ironic that the maximum range of a Taepodong-2 ballistic missile from North Korea is about Wasilla AK. Maybe former governor Palin can see Pyongyang from her house as well.