North Korea’s threats of nuclear warfare  and military action have been ongoing for some time now as tensions with neighbours South Korea remain high. Some experts, like Professor John Delury of Yonsei university, warn of the “clear warnings” that have followed previous attacks by the North. Meanwhile, others like Andrea Burger of the Royal United Services Institute in London suggest that the North merely make rhetorical threats as they desire a peace treaty with the United States and South Korea.

North Korea

It seems that even those of us that rarely check the news are aware of the escalating tensions in North Korea.  But, how worried are students of UEA? Is the situation perceived as an international pantomime of power or are students genuinely concerned that Kim Jong Un’s threats will become a reality, and a war involving multiple countries is looming large on the international stage?

So far, North Korea has only attacked through the medium of rhetoric. The battle of words, though largely one-sided, has been escalating in recent months. North Korea has recently advised foreigners to leave South Korea in preparation for the thermonuclear war that it plans to initiate. Pete, a UEA student, likened North Korea’s behaviour to that of a “temperamental baby”.

Many argue that Kim Jong Un is creating international tension in order to boost domestic influence. However, not everyone shares this theory. In a CNN poll published on 8 April, 41% of Americans were reported to believe North Korea is an “immediate threat to the US”. It is important to bear in mind that in a war largely based on claims made by a secretive country that coverage of the threats made varies significantly from country to country.

But, whether Kim Jong Un’s actions are viewed by the international community as mere political posturing or as genuine threats, the fact remains that the UN estimates that North Korea is home to over 16 million people in need of food aid. Though accurate statistics for this secretive country are, of course, notoriously difficult to verify, it is clear that North Korea is at the very least a country in need of some international assistance.

This deeply concerning lack of reliable information available to the international community raises serious concerns for the people of North Korea who may be suffering in silence in the secretive country. It is easy to forget that after the death of Kim Jong Il on 17 December 2011 there were high hopes from the UN and others that his successor would “change North Korea’s long-term behavioural pattern”.

So what do UEA’s students think of North Korea’s statements? Do we think, like Russian President Vladimir Putin, that a conflict between North and South Korea will make the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl look like a children’s “fairytale”, or are students more optimistic that the war of words will resolve peacefully?

To look at many UK/USA based humour websites, almost every other post ridicules Kim Jong Un and what are perceived by users as his outrageous threats. 20.8% of students surveyed believe that the threats made by Kim Jong Un are empty and nothing whatsoever will come of them. There is a significant portion of students of the opinion that war is most likely to be the result of a miscalculation on either side.  One student commented that: “I feel this is more sabre-rattling by North Korea than actual intent of starting a war; that said, accidental war is entirely possible”.

However, some students are more worried, with most respondents considering conflict at least possible as a result. One worried student said: “I don’t think we should dismiss the threat as a lot of people seem to have done. It’s still very concerning and affects the whole world”.

Perhaps it may be surprising that 8.3% of those surveyed believe that war involving multiple nations is imminent. It is easy to forget people’s genuine fears since it would appear they are largely kept to themselves, not shared via internet humour sites or in everyday conversations.

So with at least some members of the student community feeling entirely blasé about the situation, what is it like for South Korean international students, or those with family and friends in South Korea?

UEA International Student Ambassador Saem Kim says: “Although I know that it is very unlikely that a war will break out, as I have all of my family members and so many friends in Korea, I cannot stop worrying about this situation”.

However, another UEA student thinks that that the threat posed by North Korea is not taken seriously enough “even in South Korea, outside the government and the military” and worries that “this will result in a lack of preparation if the worst comes true”.

Saem did however comment on the laudable seriousness with which the situation is reported on UK television, commenting that “the UK actually covers this situation very seriously on TV”.

It is apparent that the students surveyed have proved themselves well informed on the situation regardless of their opinions on the seriousness of the threats. 84.5% of students surveyed said that they were checking the news more than three times per week.

Most UEA students believe that conflict in the troubled region is only possible, although a significant proportion of students are worried for the fate of those living in the troubled peninsular, especially, given the distinct possibility that, should conflict ensue, the international community would be dragged into the fray.