Yesterday Henry Kissinger was at Yale to share a bit of his wisdom at a conference on American diplomacy. He had something to say about pretty much every part of the world, but what intrigued me most was his take on North Korea. The real danger, he argued, lies not in a possible attack from the North, but rather in the consequences of a collapse of the regime in Pyongyang. He is certain that North Korea will never start a war, because doing so would be suicidal. Its military capabilities are enough to inflict damage on Seoul, but a war would certainly lead to defeat and an immediate overthrow of the regime. The latter, he argues, will inevitably happen within the next 15 years or so, war or not. The regime is simply too inefficient and lacking in legitimacy.
Once the regime is gone, South Korea will be unwilling to accept a Chinese client state to replace the Kim-dictatorship. China, on the other hand, will certainly not accept a unified, pro-American Korea. This is not only due to security concerns, but also because of the sacrifices China made during the Korean War. According to Kissinger, this constellation could be a classic case of a regional crisis becoming a global one by sucking in China and the United States. Right now, Washington and Beijing should not get too distracted by Kim Jong-Un’s threats and use the crisis to start talks on the real problem: What to do with post-dictatorial North Korea.