Well, the little guy says a lot of things...
The Korean War may have resumed after its 71-year half-time at a year-end speech in Pyongyang. True, the Korean conflict never legally ended, but the 1953 cease-fire has held for so long – two generations – that the original legalities didn’t really matter. Remember, you live with some nice gal for scant seven years and you two are common-law married whether either of you really want to be or not. So it was a little strange – but not surprising – when North Korean dictator and hair-icon, Kim Jong-Un, felt compelled to point out to his charges that the two Koreas were, in fact, to belligerent nations currently in a state of war.
The North Korean military confirmed that in recent meetings that Kim had instructed it to prepare to occupy the South Korea in the event of a “crisis.” Although no one has confirmed the precise definition of “crisis” as it applies here. True, little guy is always saying some damn thing or another, but this was punctuated last week when the North Korean military fired off some 200 artillery shells towards a couple South Korean border islands.
Understand that this was not the match that has ignited the Indo-pacific. The shells fell just short of South Korean territorial waters and not on was hurt. This isn’t so much WAR DECLARED! as a middle school twit playing “I’m not touching you.” The problem is that Kim is playing the game with nuclear weapons. And at least the house I grew up in, “I’m not touching you” never ended well. And Kim has authorized the use of tactical nuclear weapons against the South.
Kim also claims that he’s got a missile that can hit the US mainland, and the Japanese seem to think that this is probably true. While the North Korean’s don’t have much by way of guidance, they are getting help from the Russians in return for those North Korean missiles now being thrown at Ukraine. The bright side is that US missile defense systems outstrip anything the Koreans have – so Kim’s calculus in lobbing a nuclear missile at American involves a very low chance of hitting the intended target and a very high chance of getting successfully vaporized in return.
It’s comforting to believe that China is behind all of this – pulling the strings with Russia, Iran and North Korea. This is a geopolitical hangover from the last Cold War when nearly every conflict was backed by one of two superpowers. It would be a mistake to assume that is still the case. While China is the 800 lbs. gorilla in this emerging bloc of Bond villains, and President Xi is happy to exploit the chaos visited on Beijing’s rivals, what he really seeks is stability and influence. For the West to admit that China is a great power. The last thing that Xi wants – right now at any rate – is to bring those geopolitical grease fires to the Pacific where he must to deal with the chaos.
In short, Beijing is probably not calling the shots here. What is much more likely, and a lot more disturbing, is that China’s lieutenants have simply gone rogue.