The Ticking Time Bomb on the Korean Peninsula
North Korea is only 70 years old. Founded from the ashes of the Second World War as a satellite state of the Soviet Union, it was quickly embroiled in the Korean War after its invasion of the south transformed into a proxy war that ended in stalemate.
North Korea was backed militarily by a large force of Chinese “volunteer” troops and was supported by the Soviet Union. The South received help from a UN-backed group led by the United States.
While the Korean War ended in 1953, the ramifications of the conflict survive to this day. Neither country, North or South Korea, could gain control of the entire peninsula.
In the decades following the war, tensions on the peninsula remained high as the Communist North remained bordered by the Western-backed South. Assassination attempts and bombings were common throughout the Cold War, particularly against targets in the South.
The 160 mile border, often considered the world’s most dangerous, is secured by an enormous procession of fences, mines, and guards on both sides.
While North Korea is an isolationist country with little friends and a knack for demanding anything and everything it needs from the rest of the world, the fledgling “Communist kingdom” of East Asia has one thing that changes everything: nuclear weapons.
In recent months, tension between North Korea and its nearby states has only escalated. Threats made by the ‘hermit kingdom’ have become more common and the peninsula is at slight risk of being embroiled in another war.
North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile program poses a tremendous threat to the security of the strategically vital region of East Asia. Not only is the peninsula a direct border to the United States’ biggest competitor, China, but it’s close to prominent American allies such as Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines.
Tensions have gotten so bad that the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has reignited the country’s debate over its post-WWII constitution’s “Article 9,” which forbids conflict except in the event of self-defense.
North Korea’s ideological isolation and illegal weapons program have made it the target of sanctions, applied to its government and its economy. It has suffered chronic food and energy shortages since the 1990s and has no signs of recovering anytime soon.
So what’s the solution? Well, the moral solution would be to liberate the people of the hermit kingdom from the chains of its government.
The situation on the peninsula has become too dire for the United States and China to ignore, and that some kind of bilateral military cooperation would be in the best interest in the long term. The problem lies in the fact that China needs North Korea as a “buffer state;” more specifically, North Korea is the only thing keeping American troops off Chinese borders.
25 million people live in North Korea, many of whom in extreme poverty. The country maintains a pervasive system of concentration and labour camps, which mainly house descendants of political dissidents that may have died decades ago.
Poverty in North Korea is a prevalent problem, with most people living on $2 to $3 per month. Photo courtesy of express.co.uk
But the solution isn’t as simple. North Korea’s nuclear weapons make an Iraq-style invasion almost impossible. Additionally, the country has thousands of artillery units pointed at its neighbour, South Korea, and particularly its capital Seoul.
North Korea’s independence is technically secured by the People’s Republic of China. While the Chinese government has clamped down on the country as of recent in the form of sanctions on its coal exports, it still maintains a large military presence on the border and the closest relations to North Korea out of any state.
Even if it was militarily feasible, the issue of an exodus of refugees from the North remains a high probability in the event of war. Most of North Korea’s population is starving, brainwashed, and uneducated. The migrant crisis in the West has shown the difficulties in sustaining large amounts of refugees over a short period of time.
In the event that South Korea, after a hypothetical liberation, annexed the North, it would have to rebuild an entire country that has been decimated by decades of inefficient, ideological maintenance of infrastructure and utilities, and potentially integrate millions of Koreans who may not have known the South even existed.
It cost billions to integrate East Germany with the West after the fall of Communism in Europe. How much more would it cost to integrate the population and infrastructure of the North after a longer period of decay, and a larger population?
To many, the cost may be too much.