North Korea has again been in recent headlines by threatening the United States with nuclear weapons.
This seems to be a recurring trend that ends in nothing, but is this time any different? Is this the story of the boy who cried wolf, but instead of a wolf, the boy has a nuclear missile?
The fact of the matter is that most people simply do not know.
“It is really tense right now because nobody is really trained in North Korean politics because North Korea is very much a closed society,” said Dr. Andrew Grossman, professor of political science. “There’s a limited amount of information going out.”
North and South Korea were split after World War II due to different political ideologies. While today the South consists of a democratically-elected government, Kim Jong-un rules the North in a complicated and convoluted communist dictatorship.
Tensions rose in recent weeks due to North Korea’s announcement that they were to test a missile. According to the New York Times, the North Korean government advised the evacuation of foreign embassies in its borders.
The U.S. has been at odds with the isolated nation and has repeatedly condemned their nuclear pursuits.
“You need to put this in a historical perspective,” said Dr. Midori Yoshii, associate professor of international studies. “North Korea became a nuclear country in 2006.”
The U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, the same year that president George W. Bush declared Iraq, Iran and North Korea to be a part of the “Axis of Evil.”
“From North Korea’s perspective, they are being designated as one of these three, and one of them [Iraq] was attacked,” Yoshii said. “So from their perspective, they have to think of how to defend themselves.”
Since the U.S. would strongly hesitate before attacking a nuclear country, North Korea decided that gaining nuclear weapons would be their best deterrent. However, things can and have gone wrong.
“It’s a question of deterrence,” Grossman said. “History is littered with deterrence failures and mistakes. That’s what concerns me. You could have an error, a miscalculation, which spins out of control.”
One such error could potentially lead to war on the Korean peninsula.
“The U.S. has a military treaty with South Korea and Japan that allows U.S. to have troops there,” Yoshii said. “The military alliance clearly states that if these allies were attacked by a third country, the U.S. has obligations to help them. With that treaty signed, the U.S. could be involved in a war very easily.”
As of now, there has been no missile launch.
“I assume there’s a lot of backchannel communication [to the U.S.] going on via China,” Grossman said.
China borders North Korea and is its closest ally, although it is clear that North Korea seems to be alienating itself.
The U.S. and China are close economic partners and neither country wants to see an escalation lead to a conflict. In such an event, China would presumably have to deal with many North Korean refugees, amongst other problems.
North Korea has repeatedly made threats in the past that have turned out to be bluffs. This latest episode may be added to that list. There has been something of a cycle where North Korea threatens and then backs down in response for international aid.
“They always wait for the West to compromise so they can get more aid,” Yoshii said. “‘OK, we’ll stop this, but can you give us more aid because people are starving?’”
Although North Korea is small and quite far away, people should be aware of the issue.
“It is becoming clear that the leaders of North Korea have and are willing to use missiles,” said Salaina Catalano, Rochester Hills junior. “This poses a threat to the United States and its allies. Unfortunately, a war with North Korea is a likely possibility. This deserves the attention and concern of every American who wants peace.”
The cycle of threats and bluffs seems to remain in effect. Hopefully one day the cycle can be broken peacefully.
Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, Author Zscout370