Robert Kaplan, writing in the 2006 Atlantic, sketched out a scary scenario. But this paragraph seems prescient:
What should concentrate the minds of American strategists is not Kim's missiles per se but rather what his decision to launch them says about the stability of his regime. Middle- and upper-middle-level U.S. officers based in South Korea and Japan are planning for a meltdown of North Korea that, within days or even hours of its occurrence, could present the world--meaning, really, 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.
The Obama administration seems to be adopting the Bush administration's tactic of essentially ignoring the Kim Family Regime's latest (threatening theatrics) which, on the one hand, could serve to provoke North Korea into something more than gestural warfighting. As Kaplan points out in a new dispatch, tough sanctions -- realistically (sorry, John Bolton) the only option on the table now -- would hasten the collapse of the country. Tough call...
Marc Ambinder is a contributing editor at The Atlantic. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.