The Korean War--America's first undeclared, no-win war--ended a brief period of euphoria following the Allied victory over the Axis powers during the Second World War. The current Korean crisis, which could erupt into a shooting war at any time, marks the end of post-Cold War euphoria. China and Russia will most likely disappoint the United States--yet again--and stiffen their opposition to truly tough, meaningful sanctions (while condemning the North's nuclear and missile tests, blah, blah, blah), despite an apparent softening by the US of its stance on the embargo issue.
In contrast with the post-war period, the US is poorly positioned to meet the challenges ahead. Bogged down in Iraq, financially indebted to rising China and enthralled with Chinese trade and the prospects of a Chinese century, a politically battered Bush administration is inclined to accommodate Beijing and half-harass, half-appease its belligerent, nuclear armed vassal in the hope that the pressure will somehow bring about its disarmament.
That won't happen, of course. Appeasement, as we argued earlier today (scroll down), will lead to catastrophe; strangulating sanctions and blockades, to certain war--without the element of surprise.
Escalation could come quickly. We expect North Korea to step up its official and unofficial (via a trusted regime mouthpiece) threats of nuclear war against the US and its ally, Japan. The latter nation is now Poyongyang's primary target, above South Korea, even. The secretive Stalinist state has threatened Tokyo with "strong countermeasures" and is probably planning a bold new provocation--such as launching a missile in Japan's direction--to drive home the point.
An incident of some sort could occur as early as tomorrow. "Friday the 13th" is one of Dear Leader Kim Jong-il's favorite films--the Hitlerian monster is a horror buff--and it would be foolish to underestimate his peculiar sense of humor and timing.