The United States has found itself in a precarious position in the past week over an old Cold War beef that hasn't been solved in over 60 years. In the post-World War II era, Korea was freed from Japanese colonial domination and the nation was split into North and South Korea, with the aim of eventually reunifying the country. The North was created as a communist state, propped up by the Soviet Union. The South, supported by the United States, existed as a capitalist, democration nation.
In 1950, communist forces from North Korea invaded the South. After the United Nations gave its blessing, the United States jumped into the fray and helped the South push communism back across the border and nearly defeated the North, had it not been for Chinese intervention. After three years of war, little land changed hands and the two sides agreed only to an armistice. Technically, the two nations are still at war.
Tensions between the two nations kept up until the past ten years, until the South took the approach of largely ignoring its northern neighbor. Recently, a South Korean naval ship, the Cheonan, was sunk under mysterious circumstances. An international team of researchers concluded North Korea was responsible for the act -- a claim they vehemently deny.
North Korea has also stated any action taken against them by other nations would be perceived as an act of war. Thus far, the situation is tense, but hope exists that hostilities will not be the end result. South Korea has the support of both the United States and Japan, which consider the Korean peninsula not only a significant battle for freedom for a long time ally, but a key strategic position in the Near East.
China, typically North Korea's only ally, has taken a somewhat neutral stance on the issue. Chinese officials met with South Korean leaders today and have pledged they will not defend whoever is responsible for sinking the Cheonan, however China also stated they were not ready to accept the findings of the international team of investigators yet. China seems to be performing a delicate balancing act -- distancing themselves from North Korea and their clown prince (Kim Jong Il) but also protecting their border in a sense. Always sensitive to the encroachment of their nation, the Chinese probably would prefer to keep North Korea in tact as a "buffer nation."
Several questions now present themselves. Is war inevitable? If so, what will the American response be? Is China willing to go to war over North Korea's aggression? Where is the United Nations in this?
The answers: War is not inevitable ... however work is needed from several nations to prevent conflict. I don't know that America is willing to spread its military even thinner than it already is or if the public would support it. Troops in Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea would also damange our already hurt reputation in international politics -- furthering the notion we truly are imperialists. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has already condemned the attack as an act of provocation by North Korea, but the vague terminology still has yet to truly define America's intentions.
I also doubt China is willing to damage its economy by opposing its chief trading partner.
Most importantly, the United Nations has once again shown its inability to function as an international broker of peace. They once again sit idly by and allow North Korea to dictate world politics. Oh, I forgot -- they imposed economic sanctions. Big deal. When will other nations step up and stop allowing rogue states to defy the world?