Meeting with his military leaders March 29, Kim, according to the state-run news agency, said “the time has come to settle accounts with the U.S. imperialists in view of the prevailing situation.” On Thursday it was reported that North Korea has moved a missile with a “considerable range” to its east coast, in other words closer to the United States and our ally Japan.
North Korean spokesmen have threatened pre-emptive strikes against the United States, for the first time specifically mentioning Washington, and South Korea to “break the waists of the crazy enemies, totally cut their windpipes and thus clearly show them what real war is like.”
The Korean peninsula has had an uneasy peace for nearly 60 years, so perhaps Pyongyang has forgotten what “real war” is like. Alarmingly, Kim recently renounced the 1953 armistice that halted the Korean War and cut off all military communication with South Korea.
There is a strong possibility that these bloodcurdling threats are meant mainly for internal consumption — that Kim wants to distract his starvation-ridden people from the reality that their miserable lives have gotten no better under his rule; that Kim, who has no military experience, is desperate to establish the image of a strong, decisive leader; or that perhaps his grip on power isn’t as tight as the world thinks and this warmongering talk is a way of warding off a potential internal challenge.
If so, a coup by senior North Korean military leaders might not be all bad. It’s hard to imagine a new government being any worse.
The United States has no choice but to take the threats seriously. Military analysts say that Kim’s missiles pose no threat to the U.S. mainland, or even Hawaii or Guam. Nonetheless, this is reason to strengthen missile defenses in South Korea, Japan and the Pacific. And the silver lining of Kim’s rabid leadership is that it seems to have caused President Obama to finally begin to take more seriously the need to shield our country from foreign missiles.
China is the indispensable nation when it comes to influencing North Korea, and Beijing must come to realize that a conflagration on the Korean peninsula with its accompanying uncertainty could bring an abrupt end to its robust economic growth. Especially if it allows itself to get sucked into a Korean conflict, as happened in 1950.
The danger is that Kim’s threats may reach the point of diminishing returns and he and the callow, inexperienced North Korean may feel compelled to act — simply to prove that these are not empty threats.