North Korea: a problem for all Americans

Often, it is difficult to understand the importance of international news like the ongoing crisis in East Asia over North Korea’s underground testing of a nuclear weapon. Aside from the fact that many Americans would have trouble locating the small but troublesome country on a map, it is hard for many to grasp the reason why the media (including The Daily Illini) are making such a big deal out of what’s happening thousands of miles away from home.

But in a world of rapid globalization, as well as in a world in which America stands as the one true superpower, any event that happens anywhere in this world has an effect that hits home. North Korea is a perfect case in point.

There are currently at least 20,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea and another 47,000 in Japan. The vast majority of these troops, if not all of them, will engage the one-million-strong North Korean army should a war break out in the Korean Peninsula.

A glimpse at The Pentagon’s joint military plan with the South Korean military, called the OPLAN 5027, shows an even greater commitment: deployment of as many as 690,000 American soldiers along with 1,600 aircraft and 160 Navy ships within 90 days of the start of war.

A full-scale war is, thankfully, unlikely. Still, the effects of instability in the region could seriously disrupt the world economy. China, South Korea, Russia and Japan, North Korea’s four neighbors, are four of the U.S.’s major economic trading partners and account for about 25 percent of the world’s total gross domestic product. Should any one of those economies falter or collapse, there will be serious consequences for the world economy.

The scariest fact of all, however, is that North Korea has yet to develop a weapons technology that it did not end up profiting from. Prospects of North Korea selling off nuclear devices to Iran or terrorist groups pose a direct threat to this country’s safety.

There was once a time when America, sharing borders with only Mexico and Canada, could simply withdraw and tend to its own affairs. That time has clearly passed. As the most powerful member of a global world that is getting smaller and more interconnected by the day, America’s responsibilities will only grow. For our democracy to guide this nation in this new world, knowledge and understanding of the world outside of the friendly confines is a responsibility that no American can pass off to politicians and scholars.