Creative Commons License photo credit: ssoosay
Once again fire has been exchanged in the border-zone (or island) of North and South Korea. These kind of news seem to pop out on a regular basis, and at the same time there goes on the never ending debate over how long can the situation last, that is, when will the North Korean state finally crumble? It is interesting though that the northern counter partner just keeps on “existing”, and furthermore, is capable of transferring power from a father to son without much without visible internal tensions.
The question that I find myself wondering is, what is the “thing” that would bring some sort of an end to the current status quo (the whole other question is how desirable that would be)? One has to notice though, that the North Korean existence has several advantages on its side: the US is not very fond of having another front (military or other) opened, China is somewhat on the side of the the current regime, nobody can be 100% sure of the country’s nuclear capabilities, the waves of democratization that passed East Europe missed North Korea, and similar ones are not very likely to come (since the era of communism already came to an end..). Finally, as a state, North Korea is still a relatively small state. In the eyes of many western and other states it might be annoying, but yet, not very significant, hence the current status quo just might be the solution everybody is looking for and hoping to maintain.
However, at the same time everybody are just waiting something to happen that will bring it all to an end. Below is my list of possible sparks that could led to the meltdown of the current situation in the peninsula. It is far from exhaustive (so feel free to add your own suggestion to the comments), and many of the reasoning lack “scientific scrutiny”, but might make interesting reading anyway.
1. War between South and North Korea (and possibly some others). This one seems to be most possible option, and the regular exchange of fire does hint to this direction. However, there is one thing that goes very strongly against it: by getting into a full scale war, North Korea would risk its entire existence. In most of the cases, states try secure foremost their own existance. Going into a war against a smaller/same size state is one thing, but the North Korea would probably find the US on the other side as well. In addition, China might offer some sort of assistance, but it also has too much at stake (especially economically) to get sucked into another Korean war. I see war likely only if North Korea possesses a suicide bomber attitude, which I think currently it does not.
2. Economic meltdown. As simply as it sounds, there is no longer money nor food nor anything to keep the country running, not even in the mode it is running now. However, China and also possibly some other countries may well prefer of this not happening. Also, from China’s perspective the current North Korea might be a lot better option than the one which would take place after.
3. Internal turmoil. Grassroot revolution is always a possibility. However, have not heard much of that happening in North Korea, yet I suppose they call it the world’s isolated state for a reason, not too many news (that have not been approved by the regime) get through anyway.
4. Change of direction by the new leader. Yes, this one is also an option, and has happened in many cases before, for example in Spain in the 70s. Also true that you should not judge a person by his looks, but the successor for Kim Jong-il, Kim Jong-un does not look to differ that much from his father. Furthermore, firing a neighboring country to celebrate ones crowning is not exactly the most peaceful way to start.