When a regime as brutal, unpredictable and desperate as North Korea puts itself on a war footing and severs all ties with its bitter enemy to the South, then the world has every reason to be worried. Under the circumstances, a fall of just over 3% in the South Korean stock market sounds like a fairly moderate response.
The markets obviously think the risk of war is still fairly small. And I think – and hope – that the markets are right. The fact is that neither side has a real reason for wanting conflict. The North Korean government would risk a humiliating defeat and a loss of power. Unlike in the Korean War, it has no external backer to come to its rescue. South Korea is a rich, sophistictated society with a rising international profile – why should it risk all that, by being sucked into a conflict with its crazy neighbour to the North? Most South Koreans also have zero desire to shed the blood of their unfortunate compatriots.