Thursday, March 7, 2013

North Korea

Maybe I am overreacting to recent news, and this is certainly not my area of expertise, but it seems that the situation in North Korea is going to change dramatically in the next few years or possibly even months.

For over a decade now, there has been a constant cycle of North Korean nuclear ambitions, plans, and tests, combined with bellicose rhetoric. It may not appear that this recent news is any different from all the rest, but there is a good chance that we are reaching a tipping point.

For decades, there has been an equilibrium where China protected North Korea and kept the situation stable. But now it appears that China is supporting strong sanctions against North Korea. Maybe this is not an actual change in policy, and maybe China is just sending a stronger signal to North Korea in an attempt to stabilize the situation, but there is a good chance that China is cutting North Korea loose. They may be calculating that ending the situation now is better than letting it linger. The fact that this new UN resolution comes just after a leadership change in China could be significant.

Even accounting for changes in the situation and internal Chinese politics, achieving this cooperation from China should be counted as a major accomplishment of the Obama administration. It is a major change from the past, and it could lead to a major improvement in the security and human rights situation in east Asia.

However, there is also a lot of danger. If China stops supporting North Korea, then the days of the regime will be numbered. It simply cannot sustain itself without constant support from the outside world, and it knows this fact. If China actually does cut them loose, that will start the countdown on a bomb. Hopefully the bomb can be defused before it goes off.

I suspect that history books will see the Arab Spring and possibly the upcoming events in North Korea as the defining aspects of the Obama administration, and that our current economic troubles and budget squabbles will seem utterly insignificant in comparison.

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