Conflicts become significantly more dangerous when each side sees itself as the innocent victim of reckless acts by its adversary. A dangerous feedback loop develops in which bad behavior must be met with resolute force, which is seen as even worse bad behavior by the other. Unfortunately, just such a hazardous situation exists on the Korean peninsula as demonstrated by the following recent reports:
On Sunday, Former Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair warned:
We’ve seen cycles of North Korea provocation followed by negotiations, followed by concessions, followed by North Korea breaking agreements, followed by more provocations … South Korea is beginning to lose patience with the north … [and] will be taking military action against North Korea … I don’t think a war is going to start but I think there is going to be a military confrontation at lower levels rather than simply accepting … this North Korean aggression.
Two days earlier, North Korea’s Foreign Minister issued a mirror-image warning:
The U.S., having included the DPRK in the list of targets of a nuclear preventive strike, is pursuing a policy aimed at isolating and strangling it, while the ruling conservatives of South Korea, who are oriented toward external forces, have rejected all of the earlier reached inter-Korean agreements and are waging a campaign of confrontation … [showing the necessity of] strengthening of our self-defense potential based on nuclear deterrence forces.
North Korea’s fears of being attacked by the United States are not as paranoid as might first appear. In discussing the 2010 US Nuclear Posture Review, Secretary of Defense Gates noted that “all options are on the table” for North Korea and Iran, and former Secretary of Defense William Perry co-authored an article “The Case for a Preemptive Strike on North Korea’s Missiles.” (That article advocated a conventional, not a nuclear attack.)
And, just today, North Korea warned that the joint US-South Korean military operations intended to intimidate the North into backing off could bring a nuclear war to the region. While North Korea often engages in hyperbolic rhetoric, once Dennis Blair’s “military confrontations at lower levels” occur, escalation cannot be ruled out due to the fog of war.
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