North Korea can target, attack and sink a South Korean warship, kill 46 of the South Korean crew but South Korea cannot retaliate without triggering a barrage of shells from North Korea’s 11,000 artillery tubes that can lay waste Seoul, a capital city of 11 million. North Korea is also a rogue nuclear power and a single nuclear-tipped missile could probably achieve the same result.
A powerful argument against retaliation is the fear of an internal collapse of the last Stalinist regime on Earth. At 69, Kim Jong Il looks frail and dazed as he recovers from last year’s stroke. He is also rumored to be fighting cancer.
South Korea could then find itself faced with a humongous bill for reunification of the two Koreas and the reconstruction of an entire country from the ground up. German reunification cost West Germany $100 billion over 10 years. But East Germany wasn’t without resources. Everything worked in the "German Democratic Republic," albeit of inferior quality, much like the Soviet Union. North Korea is devoid of all modern amenities, from ground to grid.
Another frightening prospect is a civil war inside North Korea. The United States maintains 27,000 troops in South Korea, down from 37,000 since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Any spillover from north to south would almost automatically involve the U.S. military, or a third theater of operations (with Iraq and Afghanistan).
A population that alternates between hunger and starvation can’t be too happy at the prospect of a third absolute dictator since the end of World War II. Kim Jong Il’s third and youngest son Kim Jong Un, 27, was anointed in mid-April when he was hailed as the grand master of the fireworks that marked the birthday of founder Kim Il Sung. Official praise as the grand master of fireworks was also how the current Kim knew he was to succeed his father, the world’s first Communist absolute monarch.
The North Korean media received a manual titled "Instruction Materials on Kim Jong Un’s Greatness." The heir apparent’s areas of expertise are listed as "organizing festivities, fireworks and official choirs for the regime."
His father is quoted in the manual as praising the "Youth Captain" (his son) "for his beautiful fireworks and ability in organizing the ‘Day of the Sun’ … and who stayed up several nights to prepare the display (which) is a sign of his great devotion to the country."
And to guarantee army loyalty, Kim Jong Il promoted a hundred senior officers in honor of Kim Jong Un.
The eldest son is viewed as unsuitable. He is also rumored to be gay. And the second son is known as a blackguardly bounder who was seen gambling $100 bills — North Korea is also known for its near-perfect U.S. dollar counterfeits — in a Macao casino. He was also sent home by Japanese authorities after he tried to enter with a forged Dominican passport. He wanted to visit Japan’s Disney World.
As China, the United States and South Korea were still discussing how best to persuade North Korea to step away from the precipice of conflict, yet another upheaval changed the geopolitical map of the Middle East. Israel lost its only ally in the region — Turkey. And any prospects of resuming "proximity" talks with Israel for a Palestinian state were down the proverbial toilet.
From London to Lebanon to Lahore, thousands turned out to protest Israel’s botched operation to stop a Turkish-flagged convoy of six vessels transporting 10,000 tons of urgently needed supplies for Gaza’s 1.5 million Palestinians.
Rappelling from helicopters on the high seas, Israeli naval commandos landed on the deck of the lead ship to be greeted by pro-Palestinian activists wielding metal truncheons, knives and pepper spray. Several Israelis fell as they struggled to untangle ropes and harnesses. Two Israeli sidearms were seized by the attackers. One Israeli was tossed overboard. And the Israelis opened fire, killing nine and wounding a dozen.
Israeli warships towed the Turkish vessel to an Israeli port where the pro-Palestinian demonstrators were taken to hospitals and a detention center. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was in Canada on his way to see U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington. He canceled the rest of his trip and flew home to take command. It seemed the whole world was denouncing Israel again. Following Israel’s 2008-09 bloody retaliatory forays into Gaza to suppress Hamas’ rocket attacks, a U.N. report accused Jerusalem of "war crimes."
Israel the invincible is once again widely viewed as vincible. This could lead to a wider war in the region. Iran will soon emulate North Korea’s example and become a rogue nuclear state. And the Israeli argument that says there is only one thing worse than bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities and that is an Iranian nuclear bomb is a view widely shared by Washington’s power brokers. It was first enunciated by U.S. Sens. Joe Lieberman, Ind-Conn., and John McCain, R-Ariz.
The gathering global storm against Israel could easily trigger yet another war — one that would change the geopolitical landscape. Beyond recognition. Try oil at $300.
Arnaud de Borchgrave, a member of the Atlantic Council, is editor-at-large at UPI and the Washington Times. This column was syndicated by UPI. Photo credit: Kyodo News, via Associated Press.