Political Science Experts Are Frothing at the Mouth: The Korean Conflict Takes Center Stage
It has been the opinion of the Seoul Gyopo Guide that war on the Korean peninsula was, is, and will be highly unlikely. The bottom line is that Korea isn’t the appropriate forum for a war, given South Korea’s position in the world economy: it is the U.S.’ 7th largest trade partner, and China relies on South Korea for the technology transfer necessary in a large number of industries in order to continue the economic development of the world’s most populous nation. Nevertheless, it is still a fact that anything can happen, and this post examines some of those scenarios.
Is this China’s handiwork?
Although this is unlikely, it has been suggested by some that China is behind the North Korean provocations. If in fact this were the case, then the chance that this is actually a precursor to an all-out military conflict drops to nearly zero. The reason? China relies on South Korea in two ways. First, China is a large exporter of consumer goods to South Korea. The products range from agricultural products, seafood products, to everyday goods. Second, Korean companies are enormous investors in China. If you go to Beijing, you will see that all of the largest conglomerates (e.g. Samsung, LG, SK) have satellite headquarters there. Hyundai Motors has joint ventures in China, where Chinese companies are “learning” from their Korean counterparts. In short, the idea that China would support a military conflict would jeopardize, in part, Chinese economic development. While the idea that the Chinese military is provoking skirmishes throughout the region in order to flex its muscles may be true, the Seoul Gyopo Guide believes that these priorities are subordinate to the importance of economic development. In November 30th’s UK newspapers The Financial Times and The Guardian, it has been reported via Wikileaks that the PRC has been frustrated with North Korea, and not in collaboration with it.
Does the North Korean Military Approve of Kim Jong-Un?
It is well-known that military conflicts have occurred throughout history when the parties misunderstand the rules of engagement. Now, rules of engagement means all of the different levels of engagement, i.e. political, economic and military. One could postulate that as the transition of power in North Korea occurs, that some party, like the North Korean military, could choose to take matters into its own hands, and ignite a military conflict. This is the one scenario which could actually be realized and must be closely monitored. Surely, leaders of all parties are aware of global history, and are watching this transition of power carefully. A great deal of resources have been used by NATO during the Cold War in order to prevent an “accidental war” resulting either from misunderstanding at any level. The reason? During the Cuban Missile Crisis and subsequent release of documents from the Kremlin, it is clear to us now that the world was much closer to the brink of a catastrophe than originally thought. That history does not repeat itself must be the highest priority on the Korean peninsula.
Greater Leverage During Negotiations? Most Probably.
There were supposed to be new negotiations amongst parties regarding the North Korean nuclear weapons program. At the same time, a new nuclear facility in North Korea has been revealed. To make each of these matters worse, there is no sign of respite from the seemingly endless economic decline of North Korea. The bottom line is that North Korea needs more leverage when sitting at a negotiation table. With little else to offer, North Korea has had almost no other choice than to use provocation in order to wrench concessions from South Korea and the U.S. Its economy needs help, and needs it 20 years ago. Knowing that South Korea has too much to lose should there be a war, North Korea can squeeze aid and other concessions. As long as the North Korean nuclear program does not include the sale of sensitive nuclear technology to others, then it is political reality that at this point, there is little that can be done to dissuade North Korea from this path, given its dire economic needs. The North Korean ideological bluster and other manouvers? Most probably a smokescreen to increase its leverage to receive financial assistance, while maintaining its public stance to the world, and perhaps most importantly, its kool-aid drunken citizens.
But Still, Anything Can Happen…
While the Seoul Gyopo Guide continues to dismiss the ideas that war is anything other than a very low-probability event, it is true that anything can happen. It can happen by error. It can happen by miscalculation. It can happen even if the best intentions exist. So unfortunately, all parties will need to use financial and political resources that could be otherwise deployed. Given the economic and social problems that originally existed, and remain, that may be the largest price being paid at the moment (aside from the 2 South Koreans that were part of the South Korean Navy, and the innocents on Yeonpyong Island). The Seoul Gyopo Guide mourns their senseless loss.