December 8, 2017, Alagan Elavalagan
If we were to have World War III today, most probably it would start in the Korean peninsula. All the related parties in the North Korean confrontation know that. There will be no small, localized war here, if there were to be one. That is why both sides are holding their guns back while shouting at each other in a distant war of words. None of the leading players in this theater are ready for an ‘unwanted’ world war now. They know the cost of a war in this theater would be very high to all the parties, including to those who start it. But still there is a very slim chance for miscalculation or misstep from one side to ignite the war that nobody wanted.
There are only a few possible paths available for this matter to go from where it is now. Out of those options, the logical solution is to make Korea united under a one-country-two-system for now, while safeguarding the WMDs within united Korea under a monitored international mechanism, and having all the foreign powers leave the Korean peninsula. But what is the probability of that happening?
One-country-two-system is not anything new in this world. Since 1997 Hong Kong remains part of China while exercising a separate governing system. Puerto Rico, Guam, US Virgin Islands and other territories remain part of America while exercising different governing systems. So, why not have North and South Korea unite under a one-country-two-system system for now, while maintaining the current independent political systems they have? Besides, a slow merger of both Koreas would even allow the wealth of capital to spread north in a controlled manner and the wealth of labor to spread south. If north and south Vietnam and east and west Germany can be united, so can the Koreas.
North Korea’s nuclear arsenal is not going anywhere anytime soon. Most probably North Korea will join the secondary-nuclear club with countries like India and Pakistan etc. If the world can live with nuclear weapons in America, Russia, UK, France, China, India, Pakistan, and Israel then it can also learn to live with Korea’s nuclear weapons.
And then there is the presence of the outsiders in the Korean peninsula, especially the US bases in South Korea. If the Korean peninsula confrontation is solved, then there may not be a reason for the US to remain in the Korean peninsula, theoretically speaking. Closing the American bases in the Korean peninsula – and cutting down the frequent large-scale military exercises – would also save American taxpayers fortunes.
But what is the probability of all the above happening? Very slim. As a rule of thumb, it may be 1% or even less.
We all should recall that Korea was divided in the presence of the foreign backup powers. Dividing of Korea, Vietnam, and Germany all took place during the peak of the Cold War, with the same backup powers. At the peak of Korean War, American General Douglas MacArthur was even talking of “marching to the Yalu”, the river running along the Chinese and North Korean border for a reason. To stop the marching of American forces to the Yalu, the Chinese deployed about 3 million soldiers and lost about 180,000 of them. Mao Zedong’s eldest son Mao Anying also died in this war.
The second option is a war, or as some would call it: ‘military options’. It is an unwise option, but has the possibility of happening. If there is a war, planned or unplanned, it will not be between the US and North Korea. South Korea will be a forced participant instantly. Japan will be pulled in within minutes or hours. The rest of the world will join the war the way countries were forced to join World War II. This option also has a very minimal probability of happening. Again, if one gives the 2% of probability for a war happening, that should not be far off.
The third option is to talk tough, collect some political brownie-points and continue kicking the can down the road. As a rule of thumb, this option has 97% or more probability of happening. As of now, that’s what is happening – because the removal Kim Jong Un will not be as simple as the removal of Iraqi Saddam Hussein or Libyan Gaddafi. Kim Jong Un very well knows how ‘the international’ community advised them to give up the WMD activities and then executed both after giving on up those activities.