President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson seem to be on top of the situation with North Korea.
Tillerson visited South Korea last week and declared all options, including military actions, are on the table as a result of North Korea’s recent ballistic missile tests.
North Korea’s young dictator, Kim Jong Un, has tried to rattle the cages of South Korea and the U.S. before with provocative statements and actions. However, the leader of the so-called “Hermit Kingdom” has gone further than ever before, firing the missiles to within a few hundred miles of Japan, the U.S.’s closest Asian ally.
North Korea’s populace — despite widespread famine and the soul-crushing effects of a harsh, authoritarian state — is unlikely to soon be in any position to overthrow the government. Kim makes sure to take care of his nation’s military, regardless of hard times for the North Korean people.
Including national guard units, the North Korean Army numbers nearly 10 million soldiers. This force, along with the country’s recent development of nuclear weapons, puts the far more prosperous South Korea in a serious predicament. What happens if Kim is defeated in a military confrontation with South Korea and the U.S.?
What happens to all those millions of North Koreans, many of them starving and wanting any kind of new life in the South? If West Germany had some uncomfortable moments taking in East Germany after two generations of Russian-style communism, how good a fit will North Koreans be to the technologically advanced South Korea?
Seoul, the capital of South Korea, is just 35 miles from the border with North Korea. Seoul has developed into a hugely successful Asian metropolis, home to such internationally known brands as Hyundai, Kia and LG. As Paris is to France, Seoul is to South Korea: It is the hub of the 11th-largest economy in the world.
In recent years, South Korea has sent emergency food convoys to its cousins in the North during extreme famines. This is part compassion, part strategy, because South Korean leaders have been pondering for years what will happen if millions of North Koreans pour over the border someday.
Whatever Kim’s game is these days, Trump and Tillerson need to be careful about any military strike that would provoke Kim to worse behavior. For example, the U.S. and South Korea should have well-considered plans as to how to handle millions of North Koreans fleeing to Seoul if their own country collapses.
Otherwise, this generation of Koreans — North and South — may never recover.