My 10:10am Freshman English class-- the one that's been giving me the shits-- was remarkably civil today. I asked them "What's coming next?" with regard to North Korea's supposed demonstration of nuclear might.
"War!" was the chorused response. There were smiles, but it wasn't the most humorous moment.
I noted for the class that, back in 1994 when most of the students were about six years old, Kim Il Sung died and the rest of the world held its breath. Then... nothing happened. Over the years, there have been shots fired across the DMZ and various other small-scale military incidents of greater and lesser severity, but there's been no overt move toward resuming war.
Technically, the peninsula is in a state of war right now: the lack of major combat since 1953 is the result of an armistice, not a peace treaty. For the past five decades, South Koreans have had time to build their nation up from the ashes-- a feat for which they are justifiably proud-- but the current crop of students has grown up plump, spoiled, and forgetful.
I don't believe the status quo can go on forever. Nothing is forever. But I also don't subscribe to the school of thought that says the DPRK will collapse within five years. It won't, because China's still providing the IV drip, and will continue to do so (along with South Korea and possibly even America) for the foreseeable future.
I think the best line we can take is to dismiss NK's recent "test" as either a fake or a failure-- to publicly pronounce ourselves unimpressed. If nothing else, such a move would drive Little Bighair batshit. Of course, the problem with such a stance is that we would then be required to act unimpressed: we'd have a hard time pushing for punitive action against NK while also displaying nonchalance. One way out of this would be to take a page from NK's playbook and simply talk crazy: "Your little explosion is unimpressive, but we're slapping sanctions on you because we feel like it." Let Pyongyang puzzle the situation out for a change.* While the burden rests on NK to prove it actually exploded a nuke, the West needs to seize the initiative (which it has never had) and keep North Korea off balance.
Consider this, too: if the US, Japan, and other countries unplug all aid, this will oblige China to be NK's sole benefactor. A few years of NK ungratefulness will underscore the fact that NK is more burden than benefit to the Chinese government, at which point the latter will start to pressure NK to change its ways. What that will lead to, I have no idea, but it's got to be better than what we're doing now, which is little more than dancing to the Bouffanted One's rhythm.
*They probably have enough trouble trying to parse one of George Bush's sentences. I'm all for giving them even more brain-teasers.