But, there are wild cards in play. Threatened with extinction, the North could unleash nuclear and dirty bombs against allied forces via missile or ground forces or lower grade attacks by terrorists pre-positioned in the South. North Korea’s nuclear weapons are a wild card. Kim Jung-Un is a wild card. China is another. China fears a collapse in the North, which may explain why it is massing troops on its border — to prevent a flood of refugees hoping to escape ahead of or during war. China, though, could also be moving its troops in for more aggressive reasons. Given the state of the U.S. economy, it’s questionable how long we could sustain a ground war on the other side of the world, especially when China owns so much of our debt. The U.S. has the world’s most advanced, capable and expensive military in the world. China is a distant second in budget, but in total manpower, has a larger military than we do.
The last and maybe most significant wild card is the relative inexperience of all of the leaders in the picture. Kim Jung-Un took the reins in North Korea when his father died, in December 2011. He has spent much of the time since then consolidating his power, and the current threats may be signs of an ongoing power struggle within his government. Japan has a new prime minister, Shinzo Abe. His current term is his second as PM; his first lasted less than a year. China has a new leader, Xi Jinping. South Korea has a new leader, President Park Guen-hye. And President Obama has been in office for more than four years but came to the job with no previous foreign policy experience at all. It’s a bad moment for an international test, but to Kim Jung-Un, there may be no better moment for such a test than now.