The war of words between the two countries has been menacing. Going by the aggressive rhetoric of North Korean administration and equally aggressive statements from the American President Donald Trump, it appears as if a deadly war is actually lurking around. The frequent missile tests by North Korea are making things even more ‘scarier’. Pyongyang’s statement that it is ‘carefully examining’ a plan to attack Guam (a territory held by United States in the western Pacific ocean) and the American President’s equally stern reply that any threats would be met with ‘fire and fury’ has sent political analysts into a tizzy debating about whether the world is about to witness a World War III.
But as tensions in the Korean peninsula persists, is war between North Korea and US really likely to happen? Will the threats really translate into a full blown war?
It looks unlikely. To begin with, a similar situation has broken out a number of times before. Since 2006, Pyongyang has tested five nuclear devices and everytime it has done so, it has invited war of words with Washington. The ongoing rhetoric, thus, is nothing new. In early 2016, tensions between South Korea, a US ally and North Korea reached one of the highest levels since the Korean War. Troops on both the sides were kept on high alert and a border skirmish looked imminent. However, nothing of the sort happened and the issue slowly subsided later. Issuing threats against US has been Pyongyang’s usual propaganda. Analysts believe that Pyongyang does so to unite its impoverished and poorly educated population and give rise to a nationalist fervor. This ultimately helps North Korea’s autocratic leader Kim Jong Un create an image of himself as a leader truly concerned about defending his country; subsequently tightening his grip on the people.
Secondly, the show of strength by North Korea is simply; well, a show of strength. Pyongyang wants the world to recognize that it is a strong nuclear power. It wants to project this image to counter what the world thinks about it; an impoverished country with famished and poor population ruled by a ‘lunatic’ leader. The country’s autocratic leader wants the world to know that it is not really weak as the world thinks it to be. Facing sanctions from West over its nuclear program, Pyongyang has been desperately showing that such sanctions don’t really matter and it stands in the same league as other nuclear powers of the world. A war, might not really be in the North Korean leader’s mind.
Thirdly and most importantly, the China factor is going to be crucial in avoiding any skirmish between the US and North Korea. China has raised concerns about North Korean nuclear development since a long time. If at any cost, North Korea were to engage in a war with the US, it would do so by angering China, its closest partner which has helped keep its economy alive. China's economic assistance to North Korea accounts for about half of all Chinese foreign aid. It also accounts for over 90 percent of North Korea’s trade. Angering Beijing, thus, could spell serious doom for Pyongyang. From a Chinese perspective, a full blown war would mean a huge refugee crisis. Influx of refugees from North Korea, with whom it shares almost 900 miles of borders, would be inevitable for China in case of a war.
So while the war of words between the two countries continue and makes it look like a nuclear war is actually looming large, the world can breathe in peace; going by the facts, there isn’t going to be a World War III anytime soon.