Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Between a ROK and a Hard People

The North Koreans are threatening war if they are blamed and punished for killing fewer than fifty South Korean sailors on the corvette that was struck by a North Korean torpedo:

North Korea on Tuesday threatened to take military action if the UN condemns the Stalinist regime over the sinking of a South Korean warship, ratcheting up tensions in the international standoff.

"We don't want the Security Council to take measures provoking us," Pyongyang's ambassador to the United Nations, Sin Son Ho, told reporters in a rare press conference here by North Korea.

If the 15-member UN Security Council takes action against Pyongyang "follow-up measures will be carried out by our military forces," he warned.

Consider what kind of regime North Korea is. From our point of view, a country willing to just kill 50 sailors out of the blue is naturally willing to kill many more if forced to bear the punishment for that act.

But if North Korea is innocent of the charge, they are still willing to kill many more because they are insulted by being punished for the sinking?

If North Korea is not a proper threat to world peace that the sainted United Nations should halt, what is?

Of course, North Korea may have more serious problems than a wordy rebuke written in English and French, and mild enough to get past China's veto:

The currency switch last November was intended to finish off this potentially troublesome middle class, but instead it caused a general collapse in support for the government and the ruling family (Kim Jong Il and his clan). People now openly criticize the government and Kim Jong Il. Bravery borne of desperation is the order of the day, and the secret police and prison camps aren't so scary anymore. This has made the ruling elite very nervous. A few percent of the population lives well, while everyone else suffers. The elite have the guns, but not the numbers and, worst of all, they are no longer scary. At the moment, the situation is quiet up north. Too quiet.

It may well be the case that the North Korean leadership simply can't afford to be seen retreating before anyone lest their own people rise up against a visibly weakened regime. And if the army isn't fully on board with defending the regime from the people, that could be fatal to the few percent that live well at the expense of everyone else.

Perhaps the northern elites feel it would be better to get the army busy fighting South Korea and bleed it a bit to wring out any building resentment at the pampered elites, even at the risk of battlefield defeat. Maybe South Korean war plans that North Korea has gotten give them the confidence that South Korea would not exploit even a clear defensive victory by driving on Pyongyang and watching as angry people hang those paper-hanging SOBs from the nearest lamp posts.

Still, one has to wonder whether the North Korean leaders believe their army can conduct a conventional attack on South Korea. If they believe that, this could be bloody yet ultimately result in the destruction of the Pyongyang regime.

On the other hand, if the North Korean elites are fully aware of the balance of power, military action might just consist of a massive bombardment of Seoul by all the artillery massed north of the DMZ. Such a response wouldn't require North Korea to expose their fragile army to defeat (or require use of expensive fuel and other war reserves to move the army south in an offensive).

We can't afford to let North Korea slide on this incident if we have even the slightest hope that the UN can be a force for collective defense. But we're dealing with a loose cannon that China has coddled for decades despite their repugnant nature. So we'd best be prepared for what we would think is a completely irrational response to a global wrist slapping--a North Korean attack on South Korea's capital or even a general (if futile) offensive.