The world is witnessing an unprecedented series of catastrophes taking place in Japan. A massive earthquake and powerful aftershocks, followed by waves of tsunamis and subsequent nuclear calamities have left the entire world in a state of shock. Japan was arguably the best prepared country in the world for such events, yet even it is wholly overwhelmed at the moment. The United States has been the leading country assisting its ally, using naval assets and other military forces from nearby US bases.
All of this, of course, is happening while another series of crises loom half a world away. Revolutions in the Middle East continue without letup. The recently imposed no-fly zone over Libya increases the risk of conflict between the west and Gaddafi loyalists. The minority-led Sunni king in Bahrain was so worried about keeping power that he invited Saudi and UAE troops to intervene, which in turn led to a loud condemnation from their rivals in Iran. Al Qaeda continues to call for attacks against western allies, as the State Department issued travel warnings in Mali and Yemen due to concerns of a terrorist attack and instability. In the United States, authorities have transferred additional monitors westward to detect high levels of radiation that may arrive via the jet stream winds from Japan.
This is a dangerous - and distracted - world we live in. Few countries are more likely to take advantage of this reality than North Korea. Its "Dear Leader", Kim Jong-il, is in the process of trying to establish his son, Kim Jong-un, as his successor. To succeed, Jong-il and his son must win over the approval of the country's main powerbroker, the mammoth North Korean military. Last year, Jong-un was suddenly appointed to the rank of four-star general - despite having no military background - and was installed as a leading member of the ruling Workers Party. The significance of Jong-il grooming his son as his successor should not be underestimated, as it has dangerous ramifications for the region, if not the world.
Back in the 1980s, the founder of the North Korean regime, the "Great Leader" and "Eternal President" Kim Il-sung, also sought to establish his son, Kim Jong-il, as his successor. To do so, Jong-il also set out to earn the respect of the military leadership. He did so by ordering a number of destabilizing attacks against the South Koreans. These included the assassination attempt of South Korea's president while on an official visit to Burma, the abduction of Japanese civilians, and the bombing of Korean Air flight 858, which killed all 115 on board.
Fast forward over twenty years, and we again are witness to similar activities. Kim Jong-un is now attempting to earn his stripes, which has resulted in the sinking of a South Korean naval ship that killed 46 sailors, and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, killing four South Koreans and injuring over a dozen. Following that artillery exchange, the United States and South Korea held joint naval exercises. North Korea warned that such exercises would be considered a major provocation and threatened to respond.
North Korea has a long history of enmity not just towards South Korea and the United States, but towards Japan as well. In the development of its ballistic missile program, it has test fired missiles over Japan in a highly provocative manner. North Korea has a tendency of catching the international community off-guard. With the Japanese distracted by its current earthquake-tsunami-nuclear troubles, and the United States equally involved in that matter as well as the revolutions in the Middle East, North Korea as well as terrorist organizations may view this as an opportune time for to strike while the world is consumed with crises. World leaders and political analysts take note.