It’s not really a historians function to delve into the ‘what ifs’ of history but it’s not unreasonable to ponder what may have happened had the USSR turned up to that UN Security Council meeting in June 1950 and vetoed the decision to militarily intervene in the invasion of South Korea by the North. Instead, the USSR chose to boycott the UN meeting in protest against the UN allowing the Chinese Nationalist government based in Taiwan to represent the Chinese people and the UN voted to intervene and we ended up with the Korean War that resulted in millions of casualties and brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.
Of course, had there been a veto instead of a boycott anything may have happened. On the one hand, the UN would concede that, in the face of a USSR veto, its hands would be tied and there would have been no intervention by the UN thus allowing the North Koreans to over-run and take over the South. If that would have happened and it had been left at that, Korea more than likely would have fallen into the Communist Chinese sphere of influence and, by now, would more than likely be in the same economic and political state that China is now in and we wouldn’t be having the problems we’re having now 63 years later.
On the other hand, the US most likely would have intervened even without UN authorisation and the result would have been about the same as it actually turned out given that the US was by far the most dominant military player in the war anyway.
Today it’s a different story. North Korea is an isolated state with virtually no friends. China certainly feels a certain kinship with the Korean people of the North after having sacrificed so many of its own people to help the North against the Western allies that invaded the North; but China has moved on from there. It has become the world’s leading economic powerhouse and a military power that even the US dare not mess with. However, unlike the US, China rarely threatens and has constantly demonstrated that its might is used only to defend what they believe is theirs (as against the US who constantly demonstrate that they believe they have the right to dominate that which is not theirs) – which brings us full circle because that’s about America’s stance right now over Korea.
To answer the question: What are the chances of another war; the short answer is: probably no chance. (I add ‘probably’ as a let-out in case I’m wrong.)
The simple fact is that nobody wants to go to war. The US would like to invade North Korea but is kept from doing so by the Chinese and the Russians. Instead, the US will provide a massive show of force off Korean shores and growl a lot while the Chinese and the Russians show maturity by insisting that the North and South Koreans, as well as the US, calm down before it really does get out of hand.
The reality is that the North would stand no chance in an all out war; it would be obliterated in an instant if it used any kind of WMD (not just a nuclear weapon) against the South, Japan, the US or any other Western ally.
The best hope for a peaceful resolution is for the US to talk with the Chinese and the Russians about a joint effort to help North Korea advance to economic prosperity; not by patronising them with gifts of aid, but by offering to trade with them by providing supplies to them in return for the one asset the North Koreans do have; a disciplined population eager to work in exchange for the things they don’t have now and a better life for the future. A decade or two of open trading with the entire world will soon see the two Koreas reunified.
North Korea’s leaders are not in the slightest bit intimidated by the West. They know the West will not attack them – and the West equally knows that the North Koreans will not attack them. At worst, the North Koreans may lob a few shells on to some disputed island in the China Sea but that’s as likely as far as it’ll go.
America’s military moves do nothing except provoke North Korea. North Korea’s empty threats do nothing except provide America with an excuse to sabre rattle. It’s a vicious cycle that’s been going on for decades. Now might be a good time to end it by the whole world offering help to the North Korean people regardless of who their leaders are.
The North Korean leaders aren’t suffering; it’s the Korean people. Time to put an end to this nonsense of endless threats of war.