Every few days Irish has been asking me to reassure her that we are not in danger as there is more crazy talk from Kim Jong-un. We are aware of the news coming out of North Korea. We are hearing from friends in the United States, where the news seems to suggest that war is imminent. If I was at all concerned we would be making plans to evacuate with our children. I don't want to be glib, but I am not concerned, and we really are not in danger.
It is easy to dismiss a lot of the talk as insane ramblings. Talk of launching missile that will hit the United States is just nonsense. They simply can't do it. Talk of there being a "state of war" or of an end to the armistice is similarly ridiculous, and often blown out of proportion. It sounds bad when you hear the armistice is no longer in effect, it loses it's power when you find out they have said that four times in the last 10 years. It's just something the North Koreans say. There is a purpose to that language, it is intended for a domestic audience, for people who are completely isolated and in a desperate situation. I suspect Kim Jong-un wakes up every morning hoping this is not the day the generals get sick of him and stage a coup. He is trying to keep the army on his side, and keep the population loyal.
In a practical sense a full scale attack would be terrible, a lot of people in Seoul would die (thousands, not millions), but then the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea- North Korea) would cease to exist. The articles below help illustrate the limits to North Korea's military strength.
Washington Post: "A photo that makes North Korea look a lot less scary"
Asia Security Watch: "North Korea Can’t Really Turn Seoul Into a 'Sea of Fire''
Popular Mechanics: "Can North Korea Really "Flatten" Seoul?"
Being belligerent works only to the extent that it gets something in return. South Korea has been motivated to negotiate because they don't want small scale aggression like the ship that was sunk a few years ago. But a full scale attack from the DPRK, the "sea of fire" is incredibly unlikely both because they probably can't do it (see above) and because they get nothing out of it, worse, they lose everything.
They have no allies. There won't be World War Three with Russia and China backing them up. Russia has long since abandoned them- it's a large reason why they have no electricity and famine. And there is no love between China and North Korea. China wants North Korea to be as stable as possible because they don't want millions of refugees, but beyond that there is absolutely no chance they are going to fight the United States to prop them up.
Even if this isn't reassuring, from a purely pragmatic perspective, we are 20 km south of Seoul proper. If the absolute worse case happened and there really was an attack we are out of the range of the North Korean artillery. Osan Air Force base is just to the south of us, we would get in our car and drive there as quick as humanly possible waving our passports in front of us, ready to be evacuated to Bangkok.
Fortunately the chances of that being necessary are unbelievably slim.
The people here who have lived with this threat for decades now are going about their daily lives just like always. And in every other way South Korea is very very safe. For two months the key to our car was stuck in the ignition and we just left it, confident no one would steal our car. (now that we have fixed it I keep forgetting to bring the key with me) When we are out late at night we cut through alleys and walk dark back streets and don't think twice about it. It's a pleasure being in a country where crime and violence- while not gone- are not pressing issues.
We are starting the last quarter of the school year tomorrow, in just a matter of weeks we will be visiting friends and family in the US for the summer, and then we will be returning to the ROK in August for the start of another school year.