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Don't forget the North Koreans

By Ian Bremmer

With all the upheaval in the energy-rich Middle East, it's easy to forget that North Korea remains the world's single biggest security threat. And as he's proven many times over the years, Kim Jong-Il doesn't like to be ignored. 

After a quiet couple of months, North Korea appears to be preparing for the next round of trouble. Recent talks with the South broke down almost immediately. A row over refugees has begun, with North Korea demanding the return of 31 people who crossed into South Korean waters in a fishing boat and South Korea insisting that four of them have asked for asylum. 

In addition, published reports suggest North Korea could be preparing a third nuclear test. Pyongyang is threatening missile strikes against the South Korean mainland if balloons carrying propaganda leaflets continue to cross the border. There's nothing new about threats from the north, but the sinking of a South Korean naval corvette and the shelling of a South Korean island last year provide an unusually hostile backdrop.  

North Korea has plenty to feel vulnerable about. The toughest winter in decades has damaged this year's rice crop, and North Korean officials are reportedly asking for food aid even as they threaten to drown South Korea in a lake of fire. And the hastily-coordinated transition to Kim Jong Il's all-but-unknown 27-year-old third son continues.

Don't forget the North Koreans. They have a way of reminding us they're still there.

Ian Bremmer is president of Eurasia Group and author of The End of the Free Market: Who Wins the War Between States and Corporations?

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