Former Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair said Sunday he expects low-level military conflict between North and South Korea as the South, out of patience with Pyongyang, starts to forcefully retaliate against military provocation.
Blair, who recently returned from a trip to South Korea, predicted on CNN's State of the Union that the South's new stance means it “will be taking military action against North Korea.”
Blair said a full-scale war will not occur because North Korea recognizes major military aggression against South Korea will cause “the end of the regime."
“But I think there is going to be a military confrontation at lower levels," he said, because the South will no longer accept a pattern where North Korean provocations is followed by bargaining -- and the North later reneging on agreements.
South Korea has reconsidered its longstanding policy of patience with the North following two incidents where the North went further than in recent years, Blair noted. On Nov. 23, four South Koreans were killed an artillery barrage by North Korea on a South Korean island. That followed an incident in which a South Korean ship near the sea border with North Korea blew up, killing more than 40 sailors.
Blair said he agreed with South Korea that the North had torpedoed the ship. Pyongyang has denied doing so.
While the Obama administration has urged South Koreans to use restraint in relations with the North, Blair said South Koreans are responding to political pressure to toughen their stance.
“It's a tougher South Korean attitude with wide popular support,” he said. “In fact, a South Korean government who does not react would not be able to survive.”
Blair called for China, who has said has limited influence with North Korea, to join conversations with the United States and South Korea about the future of a united Korean peninsula after the potential collapse of the North Korean regime.
A united Korea “should be under Seoul's influence, there's no question,” Blair said.
China, which provides North Korea with much of its food and fuel, has long worked to prevent what it fears would be a destabilizing collapse of the regime there and a resulting situation where a staunch U.S. ally and U.S. troops were positioned on the Chinese border.