North and South Korea, separated by the 38th parallel, have had a stormy relationship for nearly six decades. Differences in the political and economic systems could not be starker. South Korea is among the most affluent countries in the world, with a standard of living estimated at thirteen times higher than that of its impoverished neighbor to the north. North Korea has experienced starvation on a number of occasions in the past. It is the only remaining example of a Stalinist dictatorship ruled by a 29-year-old grandson of the founder of North Korea, Kim Il Sung. Kim Jong-eun, the grandson, became the absolute ruler of North Korea about a year ago at the death of his father.
Years of isolation have produced extreme paranoia in its leadership, which feels threatened by the strong alliance between the US and South Korea. Also, the North Koreans feel that practically the whole world, except China, wants to destabilize or destroy them. Therefore, it’s bellicose rhetoric and empty threats to attack South Korea and the US need not be taken seriously. True it has conducted three nuclear detonations in the past years, but that does not mean it has a nuclear arsenal that it can deploy against other countries. On the contrary, should war break out through a miscalculation from North Korea, the latter would be defeated handily by the South Korean armed forces. It seems that North Korea’s show of bravado is meant to buttress the domestic credibility of the unpredictable Kim Jong-eun.
The US and South Korea should change tack, instead of responding to North Korea’s bellicosity, they should try diplomacy. That will bring down the temperature. Efforts should be made not to respond militarily, if North Korea wishes to create a military incident, which could spiral into a full blown conflict. Kim Jong-eun should be denied this option. Instead, the United States should signal to North Korea that it is willing to engage in serious negotiations with Pyonyang in an attempt to resolve the entire gamut of their relationship which has estranged both countries from each other since the end of the Korean war in 1953. Such a policy may give much better dividends rather than beating the war drums.