The on going, made for TV, North Korean crisis rattles on and there are now two main camps of thought. One is that Kim Jong-un is mostly “blister and threat,” but seeks some advantage from the allies rather than full out war. The other is that Kim is irrational and may just blunder into a real “war” by miscalculation. Some are arguing that stern and harsh responses are the way to deal with the North – a view of some South Korean officials and politicians and of our home grown American “war hawks.” The other is a view that we should “stand down” and do nothing that might provoke Kim Jong-un to commit foolish acts.
My own reading is that the Obama administration and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel have what I will call a “precautionary and preparedness” strategy. Namely, to do what is necessary to put in place our military assets that are largely defensive and to not act in a preemptive and overly aggressive stance that might lead to unnecessary and dangerous escalation. Not a bad combination.
My hope in the meanwhile is that they are working the diplomatic tract with China, as I have suggested earlier, to clamp down the “upward trajectory of conflict.” Again, here China is the key as they can’t be anything but alarmed that a major conflict in the Korean peninsula would be a total disaster for them in strategic, economic, and political terms.
Right now my judgment is “just right” in terms of American moves and words……and hope that back channel intensive work is being done on all fronts. Here our allies in Japan, South Korea, and, yes, China on this issue, need to be using the same playbook. In time, with the right moves, the immediate round of escalation might ratchet down, but in the long-term we need to address North Korea’s nuclear and missile threat and we need to find some modus vivendi. This might take many years of work and lots of creative constructs to put this danger back into a safe bottle.