How dangerous is the North Korean crisis?

The recent sabre rattling by North Korea and the US is making a military escalation increasingly likely in the eyes of many observers. Commentators assess the threat of war, examine the background story and sound out possibilities for a peaceful solution.

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PestiSrácok (HU) /

South Korea has the most to fear

A military escalation would be fatal for South Korea, blogger Világugar writes on blog portal PestiSrácok:

“After all, Seoul is just 50 kilometres away from the border with North Korea. What's more, the communist North has positioned virtually its entire war arsenal in the border region, making it easy for Pyongyang to carry out devastating military attacks against the South Korean capital. … One thing is for sure: Kim Jong-un wouldn't think twice about razing Seoul to the ground. Even at the cost of a devastating counterstrike. Kim Jong-un has an army of 1.1 million soldiers at his disposal - five million if you include the reserves. Then there are at least 4,200 tanks. An attack on South Korea would be an inferno.”

Le Monde (FR) /

No sign of a diplomatic solution

A solution to the conflict is impossible right now, comments historian and Asia expert François Godement in Le Monde:

“This crisis between North Korea and the US has been on the cards for a decade. While North Korea's military development has been more rapid than expected, it has never bowed to international sanctions. A short-term diplomatic solution is not in sight because it would not stop Kim Jong-un's regime. … That's not to say that we are moving towards military confrontation. The current crisis situation is nothing new. On the contrary, it harks back to the Bush administration which, like Donald Trump, drew 'red lines' and then moved them whenever North Korea overstepped them.”

Delfi (LT) /

Growing risk of nuclear war

This conflict poses a threat to the free world, author Markas Zingeris fears in Delfi:

“Given the speed at which the US president ordered the bombing of Syria with Tomahawk missiles, and given the domestic state of affairs that could prompt him to launch a preemptive strike, the risk of a nuclear war is growing. … Any war, and - god forbid - perhaps even a nuclear war will set in motion an unpredictable chain of events. It would be the beginning of an anti-utopian era [in Europe]. This, dear Europeans, would be the end of the liberal illusions - those that haven't already been brushed aside by the populist parties with their vulgar political and cultural discourse. Human rights such as 'dignity', 'life' and 'democracy' would be devalued step by step.”

Adevărul (RO) /

The power of ideology

North Korea is another example of how every communist regime becomes isolated in the end, writes political scientist Radu Carp on the blog Adevărul:

“Ceauşescu, Castro, Kim Il-sung - they all knew that any attempt at democratisation would be fatal for them. So they fled into Stalinism - repression, a fully planned economy, total isolation. … The isolation typical of communist regimes invariably led to the conviction that even potential partners were really enemies and needed to be kept at a distance - even using nuclear weapons. We are currently in a situation in which a totalitarian North Korea and a quasi-dictatorial Venezuela are endangering regional and global security. … Who would claim now that ideologies are no longer relevant today?”

Le Figaro (FR) /

Bring the free world's culture to North Korea

A cultural rapprochement would be the best solution to the North Korea conflict, foreign policy expert Pierre Rigoulot argues in Le Figaro:

“The horror of the Pyongyang regime is measured not just in terms of its apocalyptic threats but in the fate of its people. … North Korea must be opened up for the ideas, images and music of the rest of the world. An odd solution? It is the solution of the future. The USSR fell apart without a single shot being fired, even though Moscow was in possession of almost 12,000 strategic nuclear warheads.”

Le Figaro (FR) /

Trump wants to deter, not attack

Le Figaro shows understanding for the US president:

“True, Donald Trump is aggressive in his own way. He is very loud. Some would say he is clumsy, counterproductive, that he likes to add fuel to the fire. This is why people focus on the lack of caution in his rhetoric - which is indeed terrifying - rather than the actual core of the crisis. … Namely preventing the satrap in Pyongyang from getting hold of a nuclear weapon. ... Donald Trump's words whistle like bullets around our ears. But his goal is to deter rather than to attack. He has said several times that he remains open to dialogue with Kim Jong-un. ... On his own terms, naturally. His strategy is to show strength in order to avoid having to use it. … The danger is not in Washington, but in Pyongyang.”

Vasárnapi Hírek (HU) /

Kim can bluff as much as he likes

Kim Jong-un can be sure that his provocations will have no military consequences, writes the Sunday paper Vasárnapi Hírek:

“Even if Kim's cards aren't particularly good in this game, he can bluff as much as he likes. That's just what he's doing. And he has the US over a barrel. Kim will have come to the accurate conclusion that the US generals would never allow their boss to make good on his threats. After all, they know this would lead to countless deaths (in both North and South Korea, but perhaps elsewhere too). … And Kim and his regime know only too well that launching an attack on the US would be suicide. This is why they're just rattling the sabre in typical Pyongyang style.”

Polityka (PL) /

Military strike the only option if diplomacy fails

Poland's social democratic ex-culture minister Andrzej Celiński supports in his blog with Polityka a tough stance on the part of the US president:

“In the case of Kim there is only one - final - phase of diplomacy left. In this phase it must be clear: if diplomacy fails, a military operation must follow. Otherwise the authority of the US, the only power in a position to push through certain rules of international security, will be called into question. No other state nor international organisation can take on the role the US plays today. … If he has a nuclear weapon and the means to fire it across thousands of kilometres, Kim will be able to blackmail everyone. Including the US. And democracy is vulnerable to blackmail. The US must stop the development of weapons of mass destruction in North Korea. … No one else can.”

Eesti Päevaleht (EE) /

Media are fuelling tensions

The US media are only encouraging more sabre-rattling with their reporting, columnist Toomas Alatalu comments in Eesti Päevaleht:

“In this unexpected situation the conspicuously war-hungry media are the ones adding fuel to the fire. Because the earlier rationale that Obama missed the chance to bomb Syria has given way to the desire for Trump to finally do something. What is happening on a daily basis in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya is being forgotten in the process. The public wants something fresh, something new! … The people must understand that it's easy for Kim to make a big deal over Guam. Because he is in a position to do so - so he's thinking in realistic terms here. But to start a war over Guam is taking things too far. Sooner or later the Asian propaganda hype will have to be replaced with real talks in which all the big players participate.”

ABC (ES) /

Pacific alliance must use peaceful means with Kim

International pressure is more effective than irrational threats, stresses ABC:

“If a serious politician threatens to use an apocalyptic arsenal - as Trump did when he talked of power 'the likes of which the world has never seen before' - he has to be ready to use it for the warning to be effective. And if it's empty bragging, then the White House has entered a game of bluff that only bolsters Pyongyang's tyranny. The reality is that North Korea is a relatively insignificant country and that those nations likely to be most affected by a potential conflict (the US, China and Japan) have enough peaceful means to force it to abandon its senseless plans of rearmament before things occur that cannot be undone.”

Sme (SK) /

How the US can get China to cooperate

If it wants China to put pressure on Kim the US must offer Beijing something in return, Sme explains:

“China is the key to a stable solution. But it has a different take on the crisis. While the US sees disarmament as a prerequisite for talks with Pyongyang, for Beijing disarmament is the ultimate goal. From the Chinese point of view the US must stop annoying Pyongyang with its military exercises in South Korea. … It wants Washington to withdraw completely from the Korean peninsula and make way for the reunification of Korea within China's zone of influence. Then, and only then, would Beijing perhaps be willing to strip Kim of his powers. Pulling out of the region after 75 years would contradict Trump's brash rhetoric about making America great again. But a military strike would be a colossal act of stupidity.”

Le Monde (FR) /

France's expericence needed

In an article in Le Monde US foreign policy expert Boris Toucas calls on Paris to mediate:

“To get out of this impasse a careful combination of military pressure and negotiations is needed. … The negotiations must address the issues of security, stabilising the balance of power in the region and how to allow the protagonists to save face. France, which played a key role in brokering the nuclear deal with Iran, could help to curb North Korea's ambitions before mechanisms of regional stabilisation are deployed to stop an escalation. In order to better anticipate the developments on the peninsula France could also try to gain a better understanding of the internal mechanisms of a regime that is dangerous and devious, but not unpredictable.”

La Stampa (IT) /

Beijing must bring Kim to heel

Further escalation poses a greater threat to China than to the US, La Stampa concludes:

“A new Korean war would have devastating consequences for the country. The conflict would not be confined to Korea, as it was in the early 1950s, and it would be difficult to avoid the use of nuclear weapons. … China wants to be a dominant economic power in the world and to take over from the US as a pioneer of free trade. … This vision of China as the centre of the world would be smashed to smithereens in the few seconds it would take to launch a North Korean missile attack or even a US preventive war with 'fire and fury'. … And for precisely this reason China has no option but to bring Kim to heel.”

Hürriyet (TR) /

The fight for recognition

Hürriyet hopes diplomatic means will be used to stop the conflict escalating further:

“Right now it would be impossible to entirely rule out the risk that this conflict could escalate and turn into a nuclear war. International observers take the view that North Korea will continue with its current measures until the US recognises it as a legitimate nuclear power. So until that happens a diplomatic solution is evidently not on the cards. … But we must not forget that the main guarantor of international security is not armament, the fueling of tensions, the use of military force or threats of intervention, but diplomacy.”

Aamulehti (FI) /

Living with the nuclear threat

The world will clearly have to accept that North Korea is becoming a nuclear power, Aamulehti agrees:

“Trump's impetuous words reveal his utter inability to grasp what is at stake in the North Korean crisis. ... For decades the North Korean question has been one of US's biggest problems. For a long time its main aim was to prevent North Korea from getting hold of nuclear weapons. When this failed, it tried to react to the nuclear threat in other ways. It has become clear that there are only bad solutions to the North Korean crisis. ... And unless a miracle happens in North Korea, we will have to learn to live with the growing threat that its possession of nuclear weapons entails.”

Frankfurter Rundschau (DE) /

Iran deal could serve as example

For the Frankfurter Rundschau there is only one way to deal with the conflict: the international community must persuade North Korea to put its nuclear programme under international supervision:

“Kim yearns for international respect, for a 'face'. His country also desperately needs deliveries of goods if it is not to become even poorer. Kim would be able to ascribe the rise in living standards to his own ingenuity. Consequently he will be open to making concessions in direct talks - even to restrictions to his nuclear programme. … A similar set-up to the one with Iran could work. All equipment for making nuclear bombs and missiles would be supervised. The existing bombs would have to be stored separately from the missiles. North Korea would retain ownership of the weapons but would also be able to trade with the rest of the world under the outlined conditions.”

Tages-Anzeiger (CH) /

Risking a change of perspective

The greater the distance between a city and North Korea, the more unrealistic its inhabitants' perception of the threat will be, writes the Tages-Anzeiger, using the example of the dictatorship's direct neighbour:

“In South Korea people don't think Kim is crazy. He plays his bad cards well. Nor do most people believe he is self-destructive enough to bring disaster on his own regime. … But many South Koreans already doubt the Americans' willingness to go to war for their sake. A war that is most likely to be triggered by a fatal misunderstanding. Such a misunderstanding has become a distinct possibility with Trump in the White House.”