By Anthony H. Cordesman – For The Seoul Times
It is all too easy to talk about military options in general terms. The devil, however, lies in the details—both in terms of the practical ability of a given side’s capability to execute given options and in terms of the ability to predict how the other side(s) will react and how the resulting conflict will escalate or be terminated.
This is particularly true in the case of North Korea. Its leader maintains power and control by constantly exaggerating the threats his country faces, provoking outside states like the United States and South Korea, and leveraging China’s need for his country to be a strategic buffer on its northern border, against China’s desire for stability and economic development. He gains from carefully exploiting what other states tend to see as extremism, overreaction, and “irrational action.”
This offers him a way of dealing with the reality that North Korea is economically weak and is a large but often obsolescent military power. While estimates differ, the CIA World Factbook offers some of the highest public estimates of North Korean GDP. Recent CIA estimates indicate that North Korea’s population is around 25.2 million versus 50.9 million for South Korea, making it roughly half the size of its southern neighbor. The CIA notes that any estimate of North Korea’s GDP presents major problems, but reports that North Korea’s GDP is somewhere around $40 billion in purchasing power parity terms versus over $1.9 trillion for South Korea, or a little over 2% of the size of its neighbor’s economy.