North vs. South Korea?

In an earlier post my colleague HughS mentioned a lengthy list of the problems currently facing the Obama Administration. Of course there are many more, and right now one of the most serious is the threat of a full-scale shooting war between North and South Korea.

In November 2009, a North Korean warship ventured roughly a mile into waters claimed by South Korea. After firing several warning shots, the South Korean ship directly opened fire on the North Korean ship. The two exchanged fire for several minutes before the North Korean ship returned to its own waters, on fire and badly damaged. Naturally North Korea feigned outrage and demanded an apology, claiming that its naval vessel was brutally attacked while in its own waters.

Then in March of this year, a North Korean submarine, supposedly under direct orders from Dear Leader Kim Jong-il, fired a torpedo through international waters and sank a South Korean gun boat, resulting in the loss of 46 South Korean soldiers. Forensic evidence gathered from the point of attack conclusively established that a North Korean torpedo was responsible for sinking the ship.

With Dear Leader Kim Jong-il believed to be in poor health and suffering the after-effects of a stroke, foreign policy experts have long expected to see occasional episodes of saber-rattling by the Pyongyang regime as it attempts to maintain an air of strength while it struggles hold together what is perhaps the world’s most fragile economy (during a world-wide economic slow-down) and during the transition of power from Kim Jong-il to his youngest son, Kim Jung-un.

But now that South Korea has officially and publicly blamed North Korea for the attack, and President Obama and other nations have publicly backed South Korea and its demands for a UN investigation, tensions in the region have reached levels not seen since the end of the Korean War in 1953.

Over a Pajamas Media, VodkaPundit Steven Green wonders how the possibly imminent war between North and South Korea will play out:

The good news: It’s unlikely that North Korea has enough gasoline to fight for more than a few days.

The bad news: they could really mess up the South in less time than that.

The worse news: nobody knows what would happen after the inevitable North Korean collapse, but everybody knows that nobody could afford it.

Green then elaborates on those points: like the old Soviet Union, it is doubtful that North Korea has enough fuel, supplies, and spare parts to keep its army functional for more than a few days; even so, North Korean artillery and special forces could destroy a large portion of the South Korean infrastructure in only a short period of time; the humanitarian crisis that would follow the collapse of the North Korean government would be devastating, even without nuclear materials floating around.

Personally I am a bit less pessimistic. Back in the day, we feared the Soviet military — but our fears were based primarily on a massive propaganda campaign that was carefully orchestrated by the Kremlin. After the Soviet Union collapsed we were stunned to learn that the polished, neatly-dressed, square-jawed and steely-eyed soldiers who marched in Moscow’s May Day parades were from a special unit that trained year-round for the sole purpose of … marching in parades. The real Soviet army was a rag-tag group of abused and dispirited conscripts that suffered from malnutrition and lacked even the most basic training and equipment.

We really know very little about what goes on inside the nation-sized gulag called North Korea, but if the past actions of the masses that suddenly found themselves free from Communist oppression are any indication, it might just be that North Korean soldiers will turn their weapons against their own superior officers, rather than their “enemies” in the South.

The North Korean people appear to be fiercely loyal and obedient to their Dear Leader. But choosing otherwise can (and usually does) cost them their lives. The North Korean people have suffered unimaginably for the past 60 years. No group of people can endure that kind of pain and still, deep down, love and support those who have been the cause of so much misery.

Will the North Korean people fight and die, and willfully destroy their fellow countrymen across the border in order to preserve the oppression, murder, torture, starvation, and abuse that has been their way of life since 1953? Perhaps some will, but my better instincts tell me that the majority of North Koreans will run toward freedom as soon as the first opportunity presents itself. We can only pray that the transition will involve as little bloodshed and destruction as possible.

Oh, and I’m not holding my breath waiting for Washington DC to come up with a “magic plan” any time soon. In fact, their “wait and see” approach will probably be interpreted by America’s enemies as “we’ll sit on our hands until something really bad happens, and then try to talk our way into a compromise.” That’s foreign policy at its worst, but it’s all I expect from the “smart diplomats” currently in charge.

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