What terrifies South Koreans more than North Korean missiles is North Korean refugees pouring south when North Korea falls.
The Chinese, for their part, have nightmare visions of millions of North Korean refugees heading north over the Yalu River into Manchuria.
North Korea worries about China. The Chinese have always had a greater interest in North Korea’s geography—with its additional outlets to the sea close to Russia—than they have in the long-term survival of Kim Jong Il’s regime.
A meltdown of North Korea could face the American military with the greatest stabilization operation since the end of World War II. “It could be the mother of all humanitarian relief operations,” Army Special Forces Colonel David Maxwell told me.
On one day, a semi-starving population of 23 million people would be Kim Jong Il’s responsibility; on the next, it would be the U.S. military’s, which would have to work out an arrangement with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (among others) about how to manage the crisis.
[Excerpt of an article by Robert D. Kaplan, The Atlantic Monthly]