North Korea's real target, which the literal target represents, is South Korea's demonstrable success. Samsung and a hundred other South Korean enterprises with global reputations and reach demonstrate South Korea economic power and organizational strength. North Korea, a Communist Workers' Paradise, is a starving prison state, and its leaders are profoundly embarrassed.
Last fall, the global success of rapper Psy's "Gangnam Style" hit tune and video made a statement about South Korean cultural influence. North Korea's gulag-style can't compete.
This week, after North Korea declared that combat could begin within hours, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that Pyongyang is "on a collision course with the international community." Ban wants new negotiations, but, alas, the secretary general himself is a source of North Korean embarrassment. He is a South Korean, emblematic of South Korean political influence.
Are the theatrics dangerous? Only if the world treats them as pure theatrics, for North Korea possesses truly destructive capabilities, which miscalculation or mistake could unleash. A rash North Korean general could punch a button. A rattled North Korean general could launch a conventional ground attack in his sector.
The U.S. has deployed an anti-ballistic missile system that provides the U.S., South Korea and Japan with a defensive shield against the rash launch of a single missile. Unfortunately, the current system is very limited. This is a mistake that must be quickly corrected. A conventional ground attack that escalates is another matter.
What is the intelligence indicator that will tell us when Washington and Seoul believe the propaganda campaign is over and war is likely? South Korea hosts thousands of U.S. military dependents. When they start to leave, pay close attention.
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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