by Michael Maiello

North Korea’s attempted nuclear strike on American soil landed in the North Pacific, failing to detonate in the drink after falling short of Kodiak Island, Alaska.  The island is home to the largest U.S. Coast Guard base in the world, a relic of the Cold War era when Alaska was more in danger to its immediate western neighbor, the Soviet Union.  Yes, it could have been worse, but North Korea’s attempted attack on the U.S. was so pathetic that it’s possible that North Korea’s supreme leader, Kim Jong-un, didn’t even know the Coast Guard was in the line of fire.

Had the missile hit its target, we are told, it might have vaporized the 150 square mile blast might have vaporized the base and rendered 800 square miles of the island almost permanently uninhabitable.  Of course, danger from fallout would have been immediate in mainland Alaska and northwest Canada (which are sparsely but significantly populated).  No doubt, Jong-un has committed a war crime.

But the U.S. should not re-engage in the Korean War over this dud rocket attack.  It could have been worse, but it wasn’t.  If the U.S. is provoked, the consequences could be dire.  First, China, though it condemned its ally and has not vetoed sterner sanctions from the U.N. Security Council, has made it clear that it will not tolerate a hot war in its territory.  China does not have to fight the U.S. tank to tank, a war it would surely lose.

The trade relationship between China and the U.S. is vital to both countries.  Any disruption of it could spark a worldwide recession.  Were economic growth in China to slow for loss of the U.S. as an export market, its central economic planners would have to dip into the countries vast reserves in order to stoke local demand for goods, services and construction.  Trillions of those reserves are in U.S. Treasury Bonds which, if sold, would drive up borrowing costs for the U.S. government, just as it is entering what would be a multi-year war and occupation halfway around the world.

President Obama must face facts — the U.S. gave up its right to act in that region of the world decades ago, when the first U.S. manufacturing jobs were outsourced to mainland China in debt financed transactions.  If China will not tolerate U.S. military action in the region, then such action is just too large an economic gamble.

A more ready solution would be to let South Korea take care of its northern rival, using our ally and trading partner as a proxy.  Unfortunately, South Korea seems unwilling to act, or to bear the risks.  South Korean President Park Geun-hye has even reportedly counseled Obama that the attempted strike against Alaska was good news.  Had Jong-un really wanted a war, he would have launched an invasion of the South or targeted a U.S. base within the region, one that his rocket would have had a better chance of hitting.  Geun-hye dismisses the Alaska attack as little more than a face saving tantrum.  Under threat from his own bellicose generals, at whose pleasure he rules, Jong-un simply had to do something.

What he chose to do was to demonstrate the range of his weapon, but at a distance where his technology simply cannot be accurate.  It was a dangerous game, yes, but a game nonetheless.  The American people seem to realize this, and have so far not supported an extensive military response from the U.S.  Certainly, the population has no appetite or patience for the kind of mobilization that the country experienced during the original Korean War that started in 1950 and sparked the nationwide conscription of able bodied young American men.  If the appetite for war isn’t there, we shouldn’t do it.

Alaska Governor Sean Parnell has scoffed that if the missile had come so close to Los Angeles, New York or Washington D.C. that people might feel differently.  But, again, it didn’t.  We should deal with the facts as they are and stand pat.  We can contain North Korea and save our military resources for only the most existential threats.

Not only is that common sense, but the U.S. can’t afford to do much else.