Is Another Conflict Coming to Korea?

Recently, the army of the DPRK increased its military capability close to the border with South Korea:

North Korea has recently moved fighter jets near the Northern Limit Line, the de facto maritime border, and ground-to-air missiles close to Baeknyeong Island. There is speculation that it plans a minor provocation while South Korean president Lee Myung-bak visits the U.S. since any show of unity between the two allies tends to incense the North. "The North Korean military was seen moving mobile missile launchers at a ground-to-ship missile base near the NLL," a government source said. "There's likelihood that the North will launch a military provocation" while Lee is away. The government is closely watching movements of North Korean artillery units. An intelligence source said, "The North Korean Army is showing movements similar to those seen right before it shelled Yeonpyeong Island last year."

The ROK has declared a high state of alert. It may have been principally in response to DPRK movements, to the visit of ROK President Lee Myung Bak, to Washington or to both. After President and Mrs. Lee were welcomed at the White House on October 13th, President Lee became the first Korean president to visit the Pentagon, where he and

Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin, presidential secretary for foreign affairs and national security Chun Young-woo, and secretary for national security strategy Kim Tae-hyo . . . met U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey, and most of the chiefs of the Army, Navy and Air Forces, according to Cheong Wa Dae.

They are said to have received "an unplanned briefing on the security situation on the Korean Peninsula from top military officials," unrelated to any "special and pending issues." It is not credible that such a briefing was unplanned and unrelated to pending issues. Is "unplanned" the same as "unexpected"?

The start of the Korean conflict, on June 25, 1950, was "unexpected" and shouldn't have been; there were plenty of signals but we were not looking. A synopsis of the beginnings of that Korean conflict and the events leading up to it is provided here. Importantly, under President Truman's Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson, military spending had been cut drastically:

In the early days of the Korean War, the North Korean Army, supplied with Soviet weaponry, was better armed and equipped than were U.S. troops. . . . Johnson made political hay by claiming that he had "cut the fat" from the defense budget. What he really cut was the throats of thousands of American soldiers.

Johnson ceased to be the secretary of Defense soon after the Korean Conflict broke out.

With a weak U.S. president unlikely to be reelected and a host of other foreign and domestic problems to preoccupy us, now would be an excellent time for the DPRK to invade the ROK in full force, probably better than at any previous time. Kim Jong-il almost certainly realizes that. He and his advisers must also realize that the likelihood of crippling U.S. military budget cuts is great. According to Defense Secretary Panetta,

the automatic cuts, part of a last-ditch negotiating move by President Obama and Congress, [were] both “blind” and “mindless.”

He said nearly $500 billion in defense cuts already being imposed are “taking us to the edge.” Another $500 billion would be “truly devastating,” he added.

Even under current cuts, “we’re going to have a smaller force,” Mr. Panetta said.

This apparently doesn't worry Secretary of State Clinton, who said on October 14th that in this new age the strength of the U.S. is waning, not due to any loss of military power but due to flawed economic policies.