On the possibility of open war, Victor Cha, a Korean-American academic at Georgetown University in Washington and a former member of the National Security Council staff in the White House, has written that while many “pass over Pyongyang’s rhetoric as harmless blather, actions by the US government over the past couple of weeks demonstrate the seriousness with which it takes the threat.”
Patrick Cronin, an analyst at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, agrees.
“The Korean Peninsula is on a knife’s edge, one fateful step from war. While Koreans are accustomed to periodic spikes in tensions, the risk of renewed hostilities appears higher than at any time” since the end of the Korean War in 1953, Cronin said.
However, Rory Medcalf, of the Lowy Institute in Sydney, was less alarmist.
“Those warning of war have a point. An iconic act of limited aggression by the North is a real possibility,” he said.
He said that “the North Korean leadership is aware of the risks of a spiral into the war, which would seal its fate.”
It may be worth noting that the headquarters of the US Pacific Command sits high on a hill overlooking the naval base at Pearl Harbor, target of the Japanese surprise attack on Dec. 7, 1941, and the memorial over the sunken battleship Arizona, in which 1,177 sailors and marines remain entombed.
Pearl Harbor and the Arizona are thus daily reminders of the price paid for not being alert and for failing to think that the worst could happen. Hagel may have had that in mind when he addressed the National Defense University.
“It only takes being wrong once, and I don’t want to be the secretary of defense that was wrong once,” Hagel said in answer to a student’s question. “We will continue to take these threats seriously.”
Richard Halloran is a commentator in Hawaii.