You maybe, maybe, should start paying a bit of attention to the doings in Korea. Yes, the North is nuts. And yes, little flare-ups of crazy are to be expected when Kim Jung Il is involved. This present crisis, inaugurated with the sinking of the South Korean frigate Cheonan sank back in March, has the feeling of something both different and more serious.
Suspicions initiated early that North Korea was behind the attack. Evidence came just last week; on May 20th, an international panel of experts announced that parts of a North Korean torpedo were found next to the sunken frigate. The North has adamantly denied any attack.
Leading up to the sinking of the Cheonan, North Korea was on a decidedly downward spiral. A currency revaluation in November was the lip of a cliff:
Chaos reportedly erupted in North Korea on Tuesday after the government of Kim Jong Il revalued the country's currency, sharply restricting the amount of old bills that could be traded for new and wiping out personal savings.
The revaluation and exchange limits triggered panic and anger, particularly among market traders with substantial hoards of old North Korean won — much of which has apparently become worthless, according to news agency reports from South Korea and China and from groups with contacts in North Korea.
The mainland Chinese government has been maneuvering about, showing at least a few signs of attempting to annex the wobbly regime in the North into some sort of puppet zombie state, the inner Cháoxiān Autonomous Region. The motivation here is at least clear; China has no interest in the North collapsing into the South, creating a unified (and American-allied) Korean state bordering right up to the Yalu river. Given the new boldness and agression of China on the international stage, it isn't beyond comprehension that there might be some intentional exacerbation of this instability by China in order to consolidate control over the region. In the least, China seems a bit baffled that evidence of the North's involvement was actually found.
The smart move for the US right now, to me, seems to be to cut a deal with the North—preferably an orderly reunification of the Koreas; the North has been begging the US to do this for years, sometimes in subtle ways. The Bush administration put a bit of a barrier to such a plan.
The situation seems a bit perilous, with long-standing balances of power and alliances under enormous strain. War might not be eminent, but a shakeup of significant proportions might be.