Friday Night Topic, early edition: What's going to happen with North Korea?

We're doing our Friday Night Topic early this week, since tomorrow is a TR holiday. Also, because Scott is on a plane flying back from GDC right now, I'm doing the honors.

I've always had a curious fascination with North Korea. I've spent many hours perusing Wikipedia and watching documentaries about the hermit nation, which seems to exist in a weird parallel reality where the Iron Curtain never fell and cartoonishly oppressive Stalinism never went out of style. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea has the world's largest military by head count and spends vast amounts of money on defense; yet its impoverished civilian population is short on food and basic necessities.

Well, now it has nukes—and it's threatening to use them.

I'm sure you've heard about the Kim regime's latest threats, which have increased in both frequency and intensity these past few weeks. Listening to the threats, one gets the impression that war—nuclear war—with both South Korea and the U.S. is imminent. I find that rather puzzling, because both Kim Jong-un and the DPRK's military brass (whoever happens to be really in charge) must be aware that they're hopelessly outgunned. Lobbing a nuke at Seoul would practically guarantee their destruction and the downfall of the regime. Yet, somehow, the threats continue.

I've heard some speculation that this saber-rattling is meant for the domestic audience—that it's supposed to rally the civilian population and the army behind the Brilliant Comrade, thus stalling a coup or an uprising. Then again, considering how mind-bogglingly crazy the regime is, it's hard to be sure. We could be in for a second Korean War. Or we could be facing the collapse from within of the Kim regime, which could leave us with a nuclear-armed failed state. That may be an even scarier prospect than conventional war.

Or maybe this will unfold some other way. What do you think?

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