SAU Buzz

Trump and North Korea clash

by Beth Ann Koustas
Posted on Oct 05, 2017

On Sep 25, North Korea’s foreign minister told the United Nations that President Donald Trump had “declared war” on his country. He added that the country has the right to shoot down American bombers, even if they are not in their airspace. This statement was just another step in the road for what has been a rough relationship between the two nations since the Korean War came to a halt. The White House denies the claim that the United States has declared war on North Korea.

On Sep. 26, President Trump warned North Korea that a military option from the United States would be “devastating.” However, he also said that a military option is not his preferred strategy according to Reuters.

A retired Air Force general told the LA Times that the Pentagon has estimated a death toll of 20,000 South Koreans a day would be likely if a war were to break out. This estimate does not include the use of North Korea’s nuclear weapons.

VOX reported that Retired Navy Adm. James Stavridis estimated there’s at least a 10 percent chance of nuclear war between the two countries, along with a 20 to 30 percent chance of a conventional war.  He also noted that a conservative death toll estimate for such a war would be 500,000 to 1 million people. At any given time, North Korea has at least 11,000 artillery pieces trained on Seoul, South Korea, home to more than 25 million people.

The Korean War never came to an end. Instead, the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed on July 27, 1953. The agreement called for a ceasefire and arranged for the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) which runs around the 38th parallel, separating North and South Korea.

Last year, I traveled to South Korea as part of a study abroad class studying the dynamics in the Korean peninsula. I stayed in Seoul, the capital of South Korea. Seoul is located about 35 miles from the North Korean Border, which is easy to forget in a city that never seems to sleep.

At the time of my visit, citizens of South Korea were more concerned about the policies coming from the Blue House (their version of the White House), than the policies coming from Pyongyang. There were constant protests against their president Park Geun-hye who was viewed by many as corrupt. Park was impeached in March 2017 and was arrested and charged with corruption.

For most in South Korea, the threat posed by their Northern neighbors seemed like more of an afterthought than an actual worry. The college students I talked to in Seoul said they didn’t spend a lot of time worrying about the threats.

Before leaving South Korea, I had the opportunity to visit the DMZ. The zone, located in the 38th parallel, is operated by the United Nations, The United States, and South Korea. The DMZ has become a huge tourist destination, with people from all over the world visiting each year. South Koreans, however, are not permitted to visit the DMZ unless they get special permission after weeks of extensive background checks.

The tour itself included a visit to an underground tunnel dug by North Korea, a trip to an observatory to see North Korea’s propaganda village, and a trip to the Joint Security Area (JSA) where visitors are given a chance to enter the famous blue buildings located in Panmunjon and stare down the North Korean guard affectionately named “Bob” by UN soldiers.  The experience can best be described as “bizarre.”  It is very odd to see what is portrayed as “the most dangerous border in the world” as a tourist destination, gift shop included.

In the time I spent studying the conflict, many things became clear. Russia and China have always been reluctant to support the collapse of North Korea. As both Russia and China move to gain foreign policy strength in Asia, the chance of the United States (in conjunction with South Korea) being so close to their own borders (in the event of a takeover of North Korean territory) is not a welcome idea.

The biggest take away was the impact a war would have on both nations. Seoul, located so close to the border, would be impacted in a way that has never been seen before. An entire city could be decimated. For North Korea, a war with the South and the United States would be a suicide mission. There is no way they would be able to survive it. Once the North Korean government collapses, the world will have around 25 million refugees (North Korean citizens) to support. South Korea lacks the resources needed to support such a large number of refugees and would require help from other nations.

As of today, the best option is probably the diplomatic option. A war would be devastating for all sides involved, and despite the rhetoric coming from both sides, a rekindling of the war paused by ceasefire in 1953 would be disastrous.

Border between North and South Korea