Great civilizations falter from events beyond their control, which is why a war with North Korea could sink the United States. This is not to say that North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong Un, could launch a successful missile attack against Hawaii or California. A West Coast troop invasion would be science fiction as well. But, going head-to-head with another stubborn enemy willing to trade bombs, bullets and blood could send the U.S. economy into a recession of epic proportions.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, the war on terror has cost Americans approximately $5 trillion dollars and running. By comparison, World War II only totaled $4.4 trillion when adjusting for inflation, while the Vietnam War tallied and estimated $789 billion and the first Korean War just $364 billion. To put today’s cost of war in context, Tomahawk missiles cost about $1.59 million each and the recent strike against Syrian forces deployed 59 of them, for a grand total of $94 million. That’s just a single operation.
With Kim Jong Un willing to sacrifice his 1 million troops and China as the Asian nation’s backer, the United States could be drawn into an unimaginable protracted conflict that creates mass inflation, rising taxes and scuttled economic growth.
The National Debt
The U.S. national debt stands at about $20 trillion and rising. Despite recent gains in economic growth and reduced unemployment, Congress and the White House will not balance the budget this year. Borrowing will likely continue for at least two more years based on even the most optimistic GDP predictions and tax revenue. America will continue to live beyond its means and rely on other countries to buy up that debt. China has played an active role, but when push comes to shove, they’ll back their Communist neighbor the same way they did during the first Korean War.
War Means Economic Strife with China
Americans would be wise not to misinterpret Chinese sanctions against North Korea as pro-USA. They are almost entirely based on China’s own regional interests. Coal embargoes against North Korea were used as a sanction because no one, China included, wants the rogue nation to have a viable nuclear missile. Such a weapon threatens to destabilize the region and China has been working toward exclusive military supremacy. However, China would likely put its military and non-military assets behind North Korea and China does hold nearly $2 trillion in U.S. debt that can be leveraged.
The much-talked about $347 trade deficit with China would also become a destructive economic factor in a hot war. Americans have lost much of their manufacturing capabilities and today’s economic stability hinges on cheap imported goods. One of the fears expressed in Washington, D.C. after the election, was a trade war with China that could result in inflation. While cheap electronics are luxury items, Americans pay relatively low prices for automobiles, auto parts, iron, steel, furniture and clothing. Nothing prevents the Asian giant from inflating the cost of goods sent to U.S. markets in an effort to tank the economy.
A historian might explain that great civilizations such as the Roman Empire didn’t fall because of barbarian invasions. The economic factors associated with fighting on multiple fronts emptied the coffers and throttled their economic lifeblood. The North Koreans won’t be invading San Francisco anytime soon, but the expense of war and Chinese leverage could bring about a second Great Depression on U.S. soil.