So it seems like North Korea has been in the news a lot lately. Well, actually, there’s no ‘seems’ about it; you can’t open a blog or RSS feed without reading a terrifying headline about the impending nuclear apocalypse. I suppose that by writing this post, I’ll be including myself in such august company. Oops.
As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, in my reading, I tend to fixate on a subject for a while before moving on to the next one. While I don’t think that this makes me an expert on the Korean geopolitical situation, I do believe I’ve read enough about the topic to have something above a passing familiarity with North Korea and the developing situation over there. And in my (admittedly amateur) opinion, I think that it’s important to keep a few things in mind while the Google News headline is PENTAGON SAYS NUCLEAR MISSILE IN REACH FOR NORTH KOREA.
Seems pretty scary, right? North Korea is undeniably crazy, based on past experience such as its scientific discovery of the unicorn and the fact that it insists on being called the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, despite the fact that such a name is both embarrassingly redundant (how many Democratic Republics belong to somebody other than the people?) and also wrong (how many Democratic Republics are actually totalitarian dictatorships?)
It seems that people like to overstate the military danger that North Korea possesses. That’s not to say that North Korea can’t be dangerous, just that it’s substantially less dangerous towards those of us living in the Unite States since we’re separated by that negligible body of water known as the entire Pacific Ocean.
If North Korea has developed a nuclear device capable of fitting onto a ballistic missile, that’s very bad news for South Korea, Japan, Australia, and every other US friendly nation. That is very bad news, indeed, and if things fall apart, a whole lot of people could be killed.
Keep in mind, however, that there is no scenario in which North Korea can win other than by doing what it’s always done, which is nothing. Many of their people are still starving to death. All China has to do is say “yeah, we’re done,” turn off the flow of resources that it’s been supplying, and North Korea collapses. They can’t go it alone and if they ever unleash a nuclear weapon, you can be they’ll be completely alone. It’s your basic WarGames scenario.
So while the headlines keep rolling out about the growing nuclear threat that is North Korea, keep in mind that while North Korea has the “largest military on earth with 9,495,000 active members,” it is also one of the most poorly equipped armies in the world. It’s an army that has been crippled by its own economic weakness. Most of its equipment dates back to the Cold War or earlier. Its military budget is $8 billion dollars. South Korea’s military budget is almost twice that.
It sounds like a lot to read that North Korea boasts “the largest submarine fleet in the world.” It’s less impressive when you consider that most of these submarines were acquired as scrap from Russia. What I’m trying to say is that history is filled with examples where having more guys doesn’t mean anything when the enemy has better weapons. Every single country North Korea has a grudge against (pretty much everyone) has better weapons.
I’m not saying that we should ignore North Korea; frankly, I consider it to be one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world today. However, that concern doesn’t lend itself to any real feelings of fear on my part. I think there’s rather too much fear going around these days and it’s helpful to be reminded that many, if not most, of the things we fear will never actually come to pass.