Cardon, headquartered north of Seoul, cites “provocations over the past two years” as evidence that North Korea might again try to take the South by surprise. Those incidents, he notes, include the sinking in March 2010 of the South Korean ship the Cheonan in which 46 sailors died and the shelling eight months later of nearby Yeonpyeong Island that killed two South Korean marines and two civilians.
Today's North Korean tirade was worded to evoke memories – and to fuel fears of a sudden artillery barrage or even a short-range missile shot across the demilitarized zone that has divided the Korean peninsula since the Korean War ended in an armistice in July 1953.
The Korean Central News Agency warned that attacks would involve “unprecedented peculiar means and methods of our own style” – turns of phrase contrived to keep South Koreans and their American allies guessing. The sense here is that North Korea might well be planning a third underground nuclear test after the humiliation of the failed rocket shot on April 13, two days ahead of the 100th anniversary of the North’s founding “Great Leader” Kim Il-sung.
One overriding question confronting US commanders is how to assess the role of the country’s new leader Kim Jong-un, how much power he really wields over his generals and how he’s likely to want to lead North Korea.