Calm Down, Kim

Today, after repeated reports from all sources that warn of an impending confrontation between North Korea and pretty much everybody else, individual and unconfirmed sources have begun to leak that whatever is going to happen will happen today.

When I say “everyone else,” you can more or less take me at my word. The Russians have deployed missile defence systems near Vladivostok, the Chinese have one hundred fifty thousand troops stationed and in readiness, and an entire United States Navy carrier group is keeping an eye on things from the Sea of Japan.

I’m not going to source any of that. It’s a matter of a common Google check to validate each of those actions. The US Navy carrier group in question is the USS Carl Vinson. And I’m not saying I refuse to fact-check based on some kind of haughtiness; it’s just that that’s how common these facts are.

The Russians deployed their missile screens as a running project. There is usually a US Navy carrier group nearby. The Chinese always have that many troops near the Yalu River, reportedly to turn away escaping North Korean citizens.

What’s new is that the Chinese appear to have restricted flights from North Korea, and have ceased trade with the Communist regime.

All of this, though, seems to have set off a maddened scramble for legitimacy in the mind of the leader of the North Korean regime.

As though in some effort to deny that anything untoward is happening, or in simple defiance of the conflation of international forces—all of them great powers—Kim Jong-un appears to have scheduled some type of display for later in the day of Friday, April 14th, 2017.

A series of conflicting reports have that display being anything from an active missile launch to another nuclear test to the opening of a new street in Pyongyang. Nobody seems to have a clear idea, but there are also reports which state that the United States is prepared to strike pre-emptively with conventional arms to halt a nuclear attack.

If they can pull that off, that’d be great, because that’s what they’d have to do. A nuclear weapon, even with North Korea’s apparently-antiquated rocket technology, would take about five seconds from launch to detonation in South Korea—so, it’s a bit of a gamble to try to shoot the thing out of the air.

Failing that unlikely third possibility where the missile makes it into the sky, two potentials emerge. One is that the United States uses its vaunted and much-doubted “intelligence” to claim that there was a missile strike occurring, and they hose the area down with Tomahawks. This will lead the Russians roll their eyes, have Iran and other anti-US powers clamouring, and generally serve to polarise things even more than they already were, but nobody’s going to start a nuclear war over a maniac’s ruined nuclear missile site.

The happy first option, and one we should all hope is what happens, is that the Chinese succeed in pressuring Kim Jong-un to stop. The Chinese are, after all, the actual power in the region. In this scenario, the Carl Vinson carrier group wanders off to take care of its own stuff, the Chinese move in some troops to help the North Koreans “clean up,” carefully disposing of their detonators, and North Korea opens up to the global economy within the decade.

I’m personally a proponent of that last option, because I think it’d most benefit everyone involved. A US Navy strike might cause a sudden regime-change when Kim Jong-un’s impotence is either discovered or verified, and that could lead to the whole region being tense for a while. In that scenario, North Korean civilian populations might also suffer from poor food management or negligence.

So, whatever happens, happens today, apparently. Let’s all hope the Chinese diplomats are ready to earn their yuan today.

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