By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
While most international observers are anxiously sitting on pins and needles to see if the tensions between North Korea and the United States escalate into a nuclear confrontation, there is another possible war brewing on the Korean peninsula.
North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un has been itching for a fight with South Korea ever since he first came to power in late 2011, after the death of his father, Kim Jong-il.
And Kim Jong-un has a much more dangerous nuclear toy chest than his father ever did.
The despotic North Korean tyrant has already shown that he is not shy to use those weapons.
A few months ago, North Korea staged its largest nuclear test ever, and it has since sent ballistic missiles flying over Japan.
This rapid succession of nuclear provocations has the entire international community on edge, but nowhere is the fear more prevalent than in Seoul.
South Korea, which has been confronting the volatile madman with nukes on its northern doorsteps for the last six years, is doing all it can to placate Pyongyang.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who came to office earlier this year on a promise to try to foster better relations with the North, is caught in the middle between mollifying Kim and calming his constituents concerns that they will be the next focus of his nuclear target practice.
Meanwhile, U.S. President Donald J. Trump has made it clear that he doesn’t approve of Moon’s appeasement strategy, and has publicly chastised Seoul for not assuming a harsher stance.
If Kim interprets Trump’s rebuke of Moon as a sign that Washington will no longer defend South Korea, he could decide to redirect his assaults on his southern neighbor, a country that has no nuclear weapons.
Kim has been pushing the nuclear envelope and is eager to test out his hydrogen bombs on someplace that would not be able to retaliate in kind.
He knows full well that a nuclear strike on the United States or a U.S. territory would result in a full-out rejoinder from Washington.
And he knows that in a nuclear faceoff with the United States, he would be outgunned.
Trump has 6,800 nuclear warheads at his disposal; Kim has, at best, nine or 10.
Even someone as insane as Kim is not likely to want to take on those odds.
So if North Korea really wants to start a war – and all indications are that Kim is gun-happy – his mostly likely target will be South Korea.
Moon is keenly aware of this fact, and has urged the international community to practice restraint when it comes to Kim, pushing for economic sanctions over provocative rhetoric.
The South Korean leader is desperately pursuing dialogue and diplomacy in trying to find a peaceful resolution for the growing bilateral tensions.
Sadly, Kim is not receptive to diplomatic petitions, and would much rather launch ballistic missiles than sit down for disarmament talks.
While Moon is working for peace, Kim is looking for a fight, nuclear or otherwise.
And unless someone finds a way to help the North Korean leader let off steam without launching a war, it is only a matter of time until someone feels the military brunt of Pyongyang’s aggressions.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.