It may cost less in monetary terms to go to war than not, depending on how you calculate it, according to Daniel Altman, who looks at it from multiple points of view, and comes to the conclusion that, arguably, it may well be much less costly to go to war with them in the near future than it is to continue with the status quo and wait for them to start it themselves.
My main problem with his analysis is he assumes both the South Korean government and the US government are rational actors looking at this economically. From my own point of view, he also forgets to calculation the opportunity cost of a non-free versus a free (or at least free-er) North Korea, which I wouldn’t know how to calculate but is probably a significant factor that also ought to be put into this sort of calculation–which would be a cold way of looking at the cost of the unimaginable suffering and oppression of the North Korean people caused by the existence of that vile regime.
But as I said, that assumes those with the decision-making power on war are rational actors who are taking things like this into consideration. I no longer believe they do. As a good old-fashioned neocon (you know, back when that word actually had a specific meaning: “a liberal with hawkish foreign policy views”) I have fundamentally soured on much advocacy for more than extremely limited military action, because I believe most or all democracies, except in unusual circumstances, work under the “war is the most unthinkably horrible thing you can ever do unless you’re directly attacked and have absolutely no other choice” line of thinking. Mass torture, mass mutilation, genocide, democide, these are nowhere near as bad as war–so many people have come to believe anyway. Thus it is nearly impossible to summon sustained effort for any long-term military conduct–although I will grant that with a Democrat in the White House, support for such an effort would likely be greater than with a Republican there.
Personally, even outside the economic costs, I believe the humane thing is, and has been for some time now, to launch an unannounced pre-emptive strike in which we precision bomb every known artillery, missile launcher, and communication facility, take out Kim and the leadership, then start aerial runs of food and medical supply drops with messages that the war is over and people are now free to come to South Korea if they want, while also broadcasting that same message via speaker and on all radio and TV signals currently used by the North Korean government in order to make sure it’s all heard.
It may sound audacious, but I really don’t think the North Koreans would under those circumstances be able to pose a credible threat, and the far greater likelihood is that their military more or less disintegrates and people just start wandering over to South Korea.
But see, that requires the belief that the initiation of force is not always and in all ways immoral, and that standing by and passively watching people be put through what North Koreans are put through is morally preferable to swift and decisive action. And most people just don’t think like I do. Most people either figure war is too awful to contemplate, or shrug and think “not our problem.” We’re not our brothers’ keeper, right?
It almost seems like pointless speculation; it’s pretty much a given in my view that nothing is going to happen here until Kim launches an actual nuclear strike. He’ll be able to continue to do anything he wants otherwise, and this will drag on for decades more.
All I can say to the North Korean people is, I’m sorry that my country, and that the world’s democracies, failed you. I know that’ll be cold comfort as you contemplate your starved and dead children and your mutilated and enslaved loved ones, but it’s the best I have to offer; not enough people in my country, which has the power to end the Kim regime in days any time it wants to, has the will to do it. To our shame.
(Thanks for the interesting link, Aziz.)