Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Not Expecting a Land War in Asia

It doesn't appear that North Korea is really expecting all out war, even as they cut off ties in response to South Korea's trade sanctions:

North Korea declared Tuesday that it would sever all communication and relations with Seoul as punishment for blaming it for the sinking of a South Korean warship.

The North also announced it would expel all South Koreans working at a joint factory park in the northern border town of Kaesong, the official Korean Central News Agency said in a dispatch monitored in Seoul late Tuesday.

Expelling a thousand South Korean hostages that stand in the way of a South Korean advance into North Korea seems to establish that North Korea really doesn't expect to be invaded. Insulted, yes:

South Korea blared propaganda broadcasts into North Korea on Tuesday after a six-year halt and Pyongyang said its troops were bracing for war as tensions spiked on the divided peninsula over the sinking of a warship.

But not war. Notwithstanding calls for their army to be ready, Pyongyang must know that they'd lose a land war but that South Korea views the possibility of winning (and thus controlling) North Korea almost with as much dread as the thought of losing to the psychopaths up north.

Second, North Koreas still seems focused on the sea front rather than the land front:

"Should the South side's intrusions into the territorial waters of our side continue, the DPRK (North Korea) will put into force practical military measures to defend its waters as it had already clarified and the south side will be held fully accountable for all the ensuing consequences," North Korea's KCNA news agency quoted a senior official as saying.

Sabre rattling is inherently dangerous since a drawn sabre can draw blood accidentally and spark a fight, but it doesn't seem like anyone wants this to expand.

Still, it probably doesn't help that North Korea might feel that it can do no wrong in China's eyes:

China responded coolly Tuesday to U.S. calls for it to support international action against North Korea over the sinking of a South Korean warship, as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called stability on the Korean peninsula a "shared responsibility" of Beijing and Washington.

Lack of Chinese resolve to tie down their pet loose cannon could yet escalate this to war. If the North Koreans believe killing nearly 50 South Korean sailors is no big deal, might not the North Koreans figure China will accept a dozen dead South Korean soldiers on the DMZ as a much smaller affront, if North Korea decides to show their resolve at a higher level? But that would be a big deal. And if everyone operates on the assumption that everyone else won't escalate to general war, that is just what we could get.

China could yet screw this up by failing to set limits on North Korean bad behavior.