July 28 North Korean missile test

This new missile test is a next small step from the July 4 missile test. Again it’s an ICBM-capable missile, and now confirms that North Korea is genuinely able to reach the continental United States. All these should not be surprising by now, and the next threshold is when North Korea can fit a nuclear warhead on top of that missile.

This is a pretty grim statement, but it means that we should not be surprised at the prospect of a conflict in the next 10 years. One can imagine a mix of factors:

  1. An insecure North Korean regime in a “use it or lose it” situation;
  2. A miscalculation from the United States (doesn’t take imagination), or South Korea (imagine a hardline South Korean leader);

The wildcard is China. What could China do? This is a particularly sensitive time, given the internal political struggles that are taking place. China should now make contingencies for the millions of North Korean refugees that will pass through the borders. There should also be military communications between the PLA, South Korea, and the US Forces in Korea (and Japan).

The next threshold is when South Korea starts holding evacuation exercises in Seoul, or when they start to build hardened shelters for the artillery bombardment to come.

However grim this might look like, this is likely to remain a conflict contained to the Korean Peninsula. It is not going to affect trade flows across the world, unless important electronics are built there; but production could still conceivably be reallocated to other parts of the world. This is what we must do now — do the grim work of thinking about how the world will change if conflict does break out.