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Many people have been worried about North Korea’s increasingly aggressive posturing and rhetoric. While threats should almost always be given some thought, it may be the case that these worries need not trouble us.
My aim here will be to assess these worries and to consider possible courses of action.
One worry is over the capabilities of North Korean missiles.
They are considered a nuclear state, and they at least have missiles. Beyond those facts, however, the state of North Korean military technology is fairly unclear.
I personally doubt the technological advancement of North Korea’s forces, but that is just a slightly informed hunch. The technological debate, however, is mostly important because of the second concern discussed here.
A worry deeply related to the first is that, regardless of their military ability, the country is not a reasonable actor and would engage in nuclear warfare despite the fact that this course of action would almost assuredly lead to the destruction of North Korea.
I do not find this concern compelling. One can often hear a similar line of reasoning used against Iran to explain why allowing them to have nuclear weapons would be so terrible.
In my experience and observation, leaders and states rarely to never take blind action guaranteed to destroy them or sacrifice themselves for a cause.
North Korea does not have many goals or suggestions that I find reasonable, but I would argue that we are still dealing with a rational entity, one who would back down if presented with assured death.
As to possible courses of action, I can only hazard a few guesses or suggestions.
It would be nice to have China put pressure on North Korea, and letting China know that applying such pressure would count for a great deal at the bargaining table. Loosening the pressure on China for economic, environmental or human rights reform or legislation could get quite a bit done.
My major suggestion for a good course of action, however, is mostly to do nothing.
North Korea gives far too much of their GDP to defense spending, and I think ultimately their setup is not economically sustainable. Let the peasants starve long enough, and no one will have any bread.