North Korean soldiers attend military drills in an unknown location in North Korea March 20, 2013.
To make things easy, let's start with what we do know, as a matter of fact.
North Korea has a young (he's 30), untested leader, Kim Jong-un, who has been at the helm for barely a year, following the death of his father Kim Jong-il, a domineering presence. The Korean peninsula is crammed with soldiers and armaments, more so than any other place on the planet. A war would thus be a catastrophe -- no question about it.
There's no way that the United States could stay clear: it has alliance with South Korea and 28,000 troops stationed there.
Ditto for Japan, which hosts some 49,000 U.S. forces (11,000 are offshore) and over 80 American military installations, and would come under immediate attack by North Korea.
North Korea is the weaker side, based on the standard measures of power. The South has a GDP that's close to 40 times the size of the North's and a defense budget larger than the North's entire GDP. Its arsenal is much more advanced than the North's, which consists of Chinese and Soviet weaponry dating back to the 1970s, much of it even older.
The United States is treaty-bound to defend South Korea; North Korea lacks an identical arrangement with China, its principal patron.
Now for what we don't know, which is where the problems begin.
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