China's reaction is another concern. China does not want a war on its border. That is bad for business. North Korean refugees might flood China. But what would China's generals do if they see U.S. and South Korean armies (much less aided by China's historical enemy, Japan) advancing north of the DMZ? China is capable of responding with a range of economic, diplomatic and military efforts. The fact that Beijing, to its discredit, still supports North Korea's communist state is not a good indicator.
A dynastic change is brewing in the North. Kim Jong-Il has a favored son, but a war of succession involving other relatives and military factions is possible. The effects of an internal struggle are difficult to assess. The next generation may prefer negotiations, or it may be raw, obstreperous and more prone to desperate action.
A bitterly ironic consideration further tempers South Korean policy. It took West Germany a decade-plus to pay for East Germany's communist failure. Given the North's dismal poverty, it could take five decades to make the wretched place habitable. Many South Koreans do not want to bear that economic burden.
Yet North Korea intends to acquire a nuclear arsenal, and this week revealed a sophisticated enrichment facility. A nuclear strike on Seoul also presents South Koreans with a heavy economic burden, along with heavy casualties.
A terrible day of decision is approaching -- the day North Korea deploys its nuclear warheads. The dangerous game then becomes more dangerous, and South Korea may no longer enjoy the luxury of avoiding war. Until that day arrives, North Korea's continued belligerence demonstrates that the allies' economic incentives are little more than acts of cyclical ineptitude. Rewards for murderous behavior must end. Let wealthy China pay all of North Korea's bills. Who knows, investment-savvy Beijing may finally tell Kim to quit wasting money on nukes.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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