North Korean MiG-29s fly over a Parade in the nation’s capital.
The National Post recently published an article detailing in depth the size and complexity of the armed forces of North Korea. They showed in a graphic the number of planes, tanks, submarines, ships, and other weapons systems North Korea possesses. The goal of the article was to highlight how large the North Korean military really is, but it did not go into finer details of why a conflict might erupt, or how it might play out.
Missile tests into the sea of Japan, bouts of artillery fire, and the loss of an occasional ship are unfortunately expected by South Korea as the North postures and attacks aggressively towards their southern cousins. The conflict that never really ended since the mid-1950s has kept South Koreans in a stalemate that persists until today.
During the Korean War, US-led troops actually took over the North but were pushed back to the current borders by a surge in Chinese troops. Chinese interests and American strategic patience has kept the war at a stalemate.
For this reason, any resolution may only come from an agreement between the United States and China. Indeed, after 60 years the regional powers have become tired of threats to stability coming from the ruling family of North Korea.
China has been the North Korean lifeline, providing essential exports and weapons systems. One reason for this support are to maintain a physical buffer between Western powers and China’s border. China’s professed military support for the regime in case of a conflict also serves as a point of leverage against American and Japanese interests in Asia. An oppressive yet stable North Korea also limits the number of refugees that would flood into China if the regime were to fall.
While fighting the silhouetted army of North Korea might become an end game for American, South Korean and Japanese forces, it is likely the case that missile defense will take precedence and pressure on China will need to delicately balanced in order to meet everyone’s interests.
To avoid a chaotic result, China would likely have to decide and agree to remove the North Korean ruling family. Alternatively, taking away power from the Kims could occur without China’s assistance or consideration, but this would involve special forces incursions and the use of large and sophisticated weapons.
Political will to deal with a situation most political leaders would prefer to avoid is largely motivating the inaction in the Korean peninsula. But with nuclear weapons and threats to the US mainland it may be that Washington will decide on a policy of “now or never” if an aggression takes place, and China may see solutions beyond supporting a dictator that will produce beneficial leverage for its ever growing international presence.
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