The secluded state has been ramping up its rhetoric in recent weeks in response to new UN sanctions and joint military drills by the US and South Korea.
North Korea announced today in a blizzard of threats that it is ready to target US military bases in Guam and Hawaii as part of a full-alert military posture. The threats included other targets in the United States, and in South Korea, in what has been a steady escalation of rhetoric.
The Korean People’s Army Supreme Command, which rarely itself issues such statements since it is a wartime body, stated the alert was due to the American nuclear “war racket” that has “gone beyond the danger line, and entered the phase of an actual war, defying the repeated warnings from the army and people of [North Korea.]”
The statement warned “puppet authorities” in Seoul to “be mindful that everything will be reduced to ashes and flames,” reported Yonhap news agency.
North Korea has vowed in the past to turn Seoul into a "sea of fire." And the latest threats from Pyongyang – which has made technical progress with its missile range, though has not yet proved it can "weaponize" or nuclear-tip those rockets – apparently do not target the Japanese mainland.
The escalation of threats on the peninsula largely follow new articulations: a US-South Korean military exercise; the election of South Korea's new president, Park Geun-hye, whose father was in various trysts with the grandfather of Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s new leader; the North’s own declared abrogation of the historic Korean War armistice; and other frictions, some of which appear created by Pyongyang to create waves and to make North Korean citizens believe their world is at the center of the universe.
Think, for example, of the colorful recent visit of former NBA-bad boy Dennis Rodman to the Hermit Kingdom, and the mass attention that got.
The New York Times today writes:
The threat from the North’s Korean People’s Army Supreme Command came only hours after President Park Geun-hye of South Korea warned that the North Korean leadership could ensure its survival only when it abandons its nuclear weapons, long-range missiles, provocations and threats….
Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have risen following North Korea’s launching of a three-stage rocket in December and its third nuclear test last month. In response, Washington and Seoul spearheaded a United Nations Security Council resolution imposing more sanctions on North Korea and, earlier this month, and began their annual joint military drills aimed at warning North Korea against attacking the South.
Of course, the status of North Korea’s leader is always paramount in speculation, informed and otherwise, about the North.
Kim Jong-un is still a very young dictator, said to be 30, and is consolidating his power and style. North Korea is for outsiders a dense black box; it is not always clear whom the Kim regime’s threats are meant to satisfy. There are generals who want to see young Kim continue the “military first” policy of his father and grandfather. There is an ongoing need to keep the woeful problems faced daily by ordinary North Koreans, particularly those outside the carefully constructed and supposedly racially-pure world of Pyongyang, at bay, and to ensure that the masses continue in the standard patriotic stupor that is the bedrock of stability in the Kim dynasty.
One theory making the rounds among DPRK watchers is that Kim created internal joy in Pyongyang with a successful cyberattack on banks and websites in South Korea last week, and the threats are an effort to keep that happy ball rolling.
The difficulty for Western planners is that while threats are a stock in trade for Pyongyang, defense establishments have to take all threats with some modicum of seriousness. One US military analyst described Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il, as “crazy like a fox.”
Today, South Korean military officials monitoring activity inside the North, according to Reuters, see no out-of-the-ordinary military action or rallying action commensurate with a full alert.
And it's important to note that in the past, Pyongyang has not been able to muster full-scale alerts since it has lacked the gasoline and electric power to do so.