“As we have learnt again and again in this long period of turmoil, the impossible can become inevitable without even passing through improbable.” Anatole Kaletsky – The Times
We seem to be immersed in a period of cumulative disasters, rather similar to the astrological idea of the inauspicious conjunction of certain planets.
This is not how the “age of Aquarius” was supposed to turn out!
This feeling that everything is happening at once colors my reading of the Korean story. Certainly the world’s tinder is very dry and any spark could set the whole thing alight. Sarajevo was such an unlikely place to start the Great War, wasn’t it? Sometimes, events do pile up in a sinisterly random way, which is where the astrological metaphor of the inauspicious alignment of the planets has at least a poetically descriptive value.
There is this wonderful Spanish saying to describe such a situation, “there already were too many of us and then grandmother had a baby”. As if we didn’t have enough to worry about, suddenly North Korea looks like starting a war.
The first thing you notice when looking at this unexpected affair is that it couldn’t have come at a worse time.
Perhaps that is the key to it all.
I really don’t think anybody, not even the Chinese, has much of an idea of what North Korea is up to. The whole “selling point” of North Korea is its mystery. That is their major card in any conflict: nobody understands them.
The USA is bogged down in Afghanistan and AIPAC and Israel are pressuring them to start another one with Iran. The world economy seems to be entering into multiple organ dysfunction syndrome, as Angela Merkel becomes the “incredible shrinking German chancellor” bent on destroying the European Union …a war with North Korea right now could have sensational knock-on effects.
Although we assume they would be defeated in short order, I understand that North Korea has enough concentrated artillery to destroy Seoul and decimate the token American forces in South Korea. Probably the American ground forces are too overstretched in Afghanistan to react effectively with conventional means and this might lead to the use of atomic weapons. Certainly even a minor war ending in a mushroom cloud could be enough to sink the world’s leaking economy.
This knowledge that they hold the world’s economy in their hands is probably what is causing North Korea to take these chances.
No country is more precarious than North Korea and if it collapsed, China would have huge problems with refugees, South Korea would have to somehow absorb the dysfunctional north like West Germany did with the East… and the German Democratic Republic was Switzerland compared to North Korea. it would suck all the life out of the south’s vibrant economy. Asia would be in turmoil for quite some time.
Just as a sailor uses the wind to navigate, but doesn’t create the wind, anybody, who has grown up reading Sun Tzu and Lenin, might see opportunities in the chaotic world situation. I think that we live in a world which is overly exposed to random events, that nobody is really “in charge” and to quote another wonderful Spanish saying, “troubled waters make for good fishing”. Perhaps, the fact that so many disasters are happening at once and leaders are so distracted by the specter of financial collapse has led the the North Koreans to think they may be able to win something in this confusion.
So my guess is that the North Koreans want money, food, relaxation of sanctions, you name it. However they might miscalculate, or any of the other players could too.
Of course all these calculations of mine could be way off. There is always a chance that the North Korean leaders are simply bat-guano crazy. That doubt is their secret weapon.
PS: The Dennis Rodman, “I don’t want to do war, Dennis” interview after visiting Kim Jong Un, is one of the most frightening things I’ve ever encountered…
North Korean insanity meets American insanity… Since all of this has found me reading “Going Clear” about Scientology, I have no illusions about how crazy Americans can get… Lord preserve us.
Photo by John Pavelka released under a Creative Commons license.