The recent rise in tensions between the USA and North Korea has led some to believe that this situation is the perfect example of a stalemate. Neither country can draw the first move against the other, without risking catastrophic consequences – North Korea risks total annihilation, while the USA risks huge casualties for its allies in the region and possible war with China. And so, in order to avoid this, both countries have come to a stalemate.
We will try to look at this stalemate from an angle of key players involved. They include USA, China, South Korea, and North Korea.
The USA certainly has the military might to obliterate North Korea in a matter of months, without resorting to the use of nuclear strikes. But, this is no comfort for its allies in the region. Seoul is only 35 miles away from the border between two Koreas. It is estimated that North Korea could apply its vast artillery system against Seoul and annihilate up to 1 million people. While highly unlikely that North Korea can jeopardize the USA with its nuclear missiles, the same can’t be said for South Korea or even Japan.
Second, and maybe an even more important concern for the US, is a Sino-North Korean Mutual Aid and Cooperation Friendship Treaty which guarantees that China will immediately provide military and other assistance to its ally against any outside attack. So, the attack on North Korea could provoke the war between China and US.
2. North Korea
North Korea could potentially face destruction if it starts the war. Long and harsh sanctions have left the country economically weak and with outdated military equipment, aside from their nuclear arsenal. This basically means that its population couldn’t survive prolonged warfare due to the shortage of basic commodities and its army is no match for the technologically superior US army. So, in an essence, North Korea would play “all in” with little to gain and a lot to lose. Even their nuclear missiles wouldn’t help them too much in the case of a lengthy war.
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China is the North Korea’s biggest ally and, in a sense, is keeping North Korea alive. China isn’t too happy with Kim Jong Un but it will continue to support him anyway. The main reason for that is that China doesn’t want to have a US ally on its border. Just recall how much trouble the US had with Cuba during the Cold War and you will understand why China wants to avoid that same problem at all costs.
Also, it is possible that North Korea could use its missiles against China if they become desperate and feel that China has betrayed them. As we can see, China is stuck between supporting the regime that will defend itself to the bitter end and the possibility of having the NATO on its border.
4. South Korea
South Koreans risk large civilian and infrastructural damage if the war starts. Seoul would be in great jeopardy because it is very close to the border. Also, by the time the full might of US army comes to intervene, South risks huge army and civilian casualties in a land war with North. Both countries still remember the brutality of the Korean war. Not to mention the possible use of nuclear missiles against them.
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Another main issue for South Korea is an economic one. In case of toppling the Kim regime and integration with North, South risks economic ruin because integration would be lengthy and very costly. Even the economic giant like West Germany had big problems with the integration of an East Germany and East Germany was in a much better position than the North Korea.
This short review was intended to show the complexity of the current situation. The situation is very tense and neither of the sides involved will gain much in the case of war but the great destruction and suffering are assured. Instead of warmongering and threats, leaders of these sides need to be wise and solve disputes at the negotiating table. Alternatives to negotiations are grim indeed.