What happens if North Korea collapses?

Pyongyang is threatening nuclear war. But that might not even be the worst-case scenario

A man walks past propaganda posters in Pyongyang, North Korea on March 26.
(Image credit: AP Photo/Kim Kwang Hyon)

North Korea shut down its last military hotline to South Korea last week, warning that nuclear war was imminent. The threat was the latest in a series of increasingly belligerent statements made by the Hermit Kingdom since world leaders imposed sanctions as punishment for the communist regime's recent missile and nuclear tests. Pyongyang has threatened to nuke both South Korea and the U.S.

On the bright side, security experts say North Korea doesn't have the ability to strike the U.S., and war on the Korean Peninsula is far from inevitable. "The North's wild gesticulations are unsettling," but "this is the seventh time Pyongyang has renounced the 1953 cease-fire" with the South, Doug Bandow points out at The American Spectator. "War has yet to erupt." One can't take anything for granted, but there's little reason to believe that North Korea's untested young leader, Kim Jong Un, "and those around him have turned suicidal after the death of his father."

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Harold Maass, The Week US

Harold Maass is a contributing editor at The Week. He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 debut of the U.S. print edition and served as editor of TheWeek.com when it launched in 2008. Harold started his career as a newspaper reporter in South Florida and Haiti. He has previously worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami Herald, ABC News and Fox News, and for several years wrote a daily roundup of financial news for The Week and Yahoo Finance.