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April 15, 2013

Mitchel Olszak: North Korea tests the limits of international diplomacy

NEW CASTLE — If you ever wanted a crash course in the complexities of foreign policy, North Korea provides a great example.

Here is a small nation that gets far more than its share of attention. It does so by issuing declarations that are — by any reasonable measure — insane.

How else would you describe the rantings from a tiny nation that include threats to attack the most powerful nation on the planet? The United States is more than capable of wiping North Korea off the map if it comes to that.

But America does no such thing. Instead, this country responds with relative restraint, issuing no threats of its own, while urging North Korea to end its hostile rhetoric and deal with its problems constructively. At the same time, the U.S. military quietly takes steps to counter any aggressive missile launch coming out of North Korea.

The lack of aggressive response from the U.S. can be attributed to several factors. First, it’s generally believed North Korea has no real intention of attacking America or its allies. The general perception is that threats from that nation are mainly for internal consumption, to allow its young leader, Kim Jong Un, to act tough.

But at the same time, no one can be completely sure about the intentions of North Korean officials. They may be as delusional as they sound. And while a war would lead to the destruction of North Korea, a lot of people — including a lot of Americans — would die in the process.

Meanwhile, America is looking for some leadership from North Korea’s neighbor China in this matter. Beijing is North Korea’s only real ally in the world, and by all accounts, China is frustrated with that arrangement and would like an easing of tensions.

However, China is reluctant to take any steps that would undermine North Korea. For one thing, it doesn’t want to see the North Korean government collapse because that would put a unified Korea allied with the United States on the Chinese border.

And if there is a war, China fully expects hundreds of thousands of Korean refugees to flood across that border, producing economic and social havoc.

So China’s approach has been one of hoping for the best where North Korea is concerned. An uncomfortable status quo is preferable to a chaotic war.

And for the most part, that’s where the rest of the world stands regarding North Korea. Let its leaders jabber, so long as no real harm is done.

Unfortunately, geopolitical calculations with North Korea include a nuclear component. How much patience do the United States and other nations have with a country that’s threatening to launch nuclear-tipped missiles?

When you look closely, it’s hard to imagine the current regime in North Korea has much of a future.

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