chances of north korea starting a war this year?

Crippling sanctions are now in place on North Korea. China no longer supports North Korea, they’re even seizing North Korean boats that were docked in China when the sanctions started. Russia has condemned them saying threats to launch nuclear attacks are justifications for pre-emptive attacks against North Korea.

There is speculation that Kim is not in complete control. If he backs down and complies with international demands in order to get sanctions listed he risks being seen as weak and losing his position. If the sanctions stay in place eventually North Korea will collapse, or the army may turn against him when they can’t get paid / fed. If this is true his only remaining move is to launch a small attack of some kind, then back off in return for getting some of the sanctions lifted. This way he could save face while still cooperating with the international community.

Thing his, his “small attack” could easily escalate, South Korea is not going to roll over and ignore an attack, even if the US urges them for restraint thats not certain to happen. I am thinking an attack by a desperate North Korea is likely, within the next six months, once the effects of the sanctions really start to bite.

Also, October Surprise anyone? What effects on the US election would outbreak of war in Korea have? My initial thoughts are that it would help Clinton, none of the GOP candidates seem particular believably strong on plausibility as CiC. Cruz talks strong but a hawkish firebrand is not the person you want in power when dealing with an unstable dictatorship which is known to possess nuclear weapons.


  • For N. Korea doing something ‘provacative’ (sink a SK ship, shell an off-shore island, both things they have done before)? About 80% chance.

  • For N. Korea launching some type of Military incursion into S. Korea? About 5% chance, same as since 1954. Something smaller (i.e., sabotage/terrorist type) I’ll give a 10% chance to.

  • For N. Korea to break down totally into anarchy and Civil War? About 10%, they get just enough support to not break down, since that would raise the stakes (and the threats) way higher.

October Surprise: Unlikely, but it would help the Democratic candidate since the US tends to rally round the Government at time of war (and this would be an attack on an American ally with many US military and civilian deaths occurring) and a strong response by the sitting Government would garner general support (IMHO–YMMV).

And I hope to hell we don’t have to find out if I’m right on that. No election thinking is worth the death and destruction that would ensue.

I agree but I think you are leaving out the chances of it then escalating as both sides retaliate. Also the danger that the young and inexperienced Kim could miscalculate and go too far in provoking the south.

The way I see it most likely playing out is the south attacks the north in order to cease artillery bombardments on an island or similar , north responds by starting to shell Seoul via their long range artillery. South responds by invading to halt the bombardments . Boom. Literally.

No way they do it without an OK from China, and China is pretty annoyed with them right now.

They’ll stick to taking potshots.


You know something we don’t ? How about explaining .

Yeah, for something like they’ve done in the past, say shelling an island or provoking the South Korean military, the odds are > 0%.

For doing something they know would start a war, like shelling Seoul or launching missiles at U.S. bases, I think the odds are still zero. It’s mostly a guessing game trying to figure out the internal machinations of the DPRK regime, but Kim was raised in Switzerland with a Western education and was groomed for awhile by his father to be supreme leader. I don’t believe that he is so ignorant as to not understand what happens if he actually starts a war with the United States.

I do think he’s underestimated how provocative certain things are–evidenced by both China and Russia showing clear signs of exasperation with him.

China has little or no influence over North Korea anymore. Kim did a purge and executed all the pro china members of his inner clique a while back, including the widely reported uncle that was executed by an anti-aircraft gun. The north won’t wait for China’s approval to do an attack if they are weeks away from collapsing due to the effects of the Sanctions.

For everyone saying they just bluster and never deliver, they’ve never had sanctions on them like this supported by both China and Russia before. This is a unique situation.

Of all the countries in the world, they are the least predictable. However, starting a real war through some kind of attack on a major population center is suicidal, and even animals instinctively flap their arms if they’re falling even if they can’t fly. NK won’t do anything big, that will get them wiped off the map. But more than likely they’ll attack a few boats here and there, maybe toss some missiles around, or shell an empty island

IMO the real danger is that if Kim is going down anyway (because of a coup against him triggered by the effects of the sanctions) that he’d rather launch an attack and be obliterated by the US / South Korea than be removed from power. People in desperate situations do desperate (even suicidal) things.

It’s worrisome that one of their provocations could go out of control. I think that’s only slightly higher probability than an intentional war, so it stays under 10%. A war doesn’t do them any good, continuing this game is serving the regime well right now.

Isn’t Kim just a figurehead? I somehow developed the uninformed impression that the real power in North Korea rests in the hands of a bunch of dudes we don’t hear about.

Two things to keep in mind, I think.

  1. Annually (or is it semi-annually) the US and SK hold joint military exercises and in response NK does some saber-rattling.

B. It’s difficult to tell how much of the NK government’s invective is intended for internal consumption and how much is for international relations.

Isn’t it standard policy for a dictatorship to claim to be victims of some external enemy? Still, I think someone ought to send Kim Jong Un a copy of the story of the boy who cried wolf.

Well, yeah, but with some of his purges/executions, he seems to be replacing some of those dudes with men who would be more loyal to him. The problem with this dynasty is there’s no apparent heir warming up. In one way, that’s sort of life insurance/job security for KJU, but on the other hand, he could also be living as a parolee under very tight supervision.

Exasperation does not mean they won’t support Kim if war comes. There is a world of difference between being upset at Kim’s sabre rattling (which they are) and accepting a situation which leads to American troops on their border… which is as unacceptable to them today as it was back in Autumn 1950.

Because the leadership is not interested in reunification, just the propagation of their own power.

They have zero interest in causing a war.

This argument makes no sense to me. If the north collapsed China could dictate a Dmz neutral zone say 100 km buffer from the border between China and North Korea. I find it unlikely that the us would reject that. Secondly even if a small number of us troops ended up right on the border with China so what? China could easily station 10 times more troops to match them, and the US main threat to China is stealth aircraft and the us total air superiority , not ground troops invading via Korea. The world has changed a lot since 1950. Ground troops just aren’t much of a threat on their own anymore .

Only if you are ignorant. The U.S position on N Korea is that the entire Korean peninsula is rightly to be governed by the Government is Seoul; which more to the point is the S Korean position. Do you really think the USG is going to be ok with the gobbling up of several hundred sq km of territory of an ally?

It was said via Wikileaks that China isn’t particulary bothered if the ROK goes to the Yalu river.

I think China’s objection to sharing a border with South Korea stem more from fear of a “Berlin Wall” type situation where a totalitarian country shares a border with a prosperous democracy. How prosperous would the former North Korea would be in an united Korea is dubious though.