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August 12, 2017 Update

For the latest North Korea threat assessment, refer to North Korea Threat Assessment: Psychological Profile of Kim Jong-un.


North Korea: Rocket Launches, Nuclear Tests Will ‘Target’ U.S.


U.S. Special Representative for North Korea policy Glyn Davies, center, speaks at a news conference in Seoul on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013. (Ph0to credit: Kim Hong-ji / Reuters)

By Ju-min Park and Choonsik Yoo
Reuters via NBCNews.com
January 23, 2013

SEOUL — North Korea said on Thursday it would carry out further rocket launches and a nuclear test that would target the United States, dramatically stepping up its threats against a country it called its “enemy.”

The announcement by the country’s top military body came a day after the United Nations Security Council agreed to a U.S.-backed resolution to censure and sanction the country for a rocket launch in December that breached U.N. rules.

“We are not disguising the fact that the various satellites and long-range rockets that we will fire and the high-level nuclear test we will carry out are targeted at the United States,” North Korea’s National Defense Commission said, according to state news agency KCNA.

North Korea is believed by South Korea and other observers to be “technically ready” for a third nuclear test, and the decision to go ahead rests with leader Kim Jong-un who pressed ahead with the December rocket launch in defiance of the U.N. sanctions. …

The North was banned from developing missile and nuclear technology under sanctions dating from its 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests.

The concern now is that Pyongyang, whose only major diplomatic ally, China, endorsed the latest U.N. resolution, could undertake a third nuclear test using highly enriched uranium for the first time, opening a second path to a bomb.

Its previous tests have been viewed as limited successes and used plutonium, of which the North has limited stocks. …

Its long-range rockets are not seen as capable of reaching the United States mainland and it is not believed to have the technology to mount a nuclear warhead on a long-range missile. …

Full story

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North Korea: Sanctions by South Would Be ‘Declaration of War’

Video

North Korea threatens South over UN sanctions (NBC Nightly News, Jan. 25, 2013) – North Korea has threatened war against its southern neighbor if South Korea supports the UN policy of sanctions. The hostile exchanges are all about North Korea’s nuclear development and missile testing. ITV’s Angus Walker reports. (01:33)

By Jack Kim
Reuters via NBCNews.com
January 25, 2013

SEOUL — North Korea threatened Friday to attack rival South Korea if Seoul joined a new round of tightened U.N. sanctions, saying it would regard this as “a declaration of war.”

The reclusive North has this week declared a boycott of all dialogue aimed at ending its nuclear program and vowed to conduct more rocket and nuclear tests after the U.N. Security Council censured it for a December long-range missile launch.

On Thursday, Washington unveiled more of its own economic restrictions following Pyongyang’s rocket launch last month.

Friday brought a third straight day of fiery rhetoric from the isolated communist state, this time directed against South Korea. …

North Korea’s rhetoric this week amounted to some of the angriest outbursts against the outside world coming under the leadership of Kim Jong Un, who took over after the death of his father Kim Jong Il in late 2011.

On Thursday, the North said it would carry out further rocket launches and a nuclear test, directing its ire at the United States, a country it called its “sworn enemy.”

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the comments were worrying.

“We are very concerned with North Korea’s continuing provocative behavior,” he said at a Pentagon news conference. “We are fully prepared … to deal with any kind of provocation from the North Koreans. But I hope in the end that they determine that it is better to make a choice to become part of the international family.”

North Korea is not believed to have the technology to deliver a nuclear warhead capable of hitting the continental United States, although its December launch showed it had the capacity to deliver a rocket that could travel 6,200 miles, potentially putting San Francisco in range, according to an intelligence assessment by South Korea. …

Full story

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2/16/2013 Update

White House: North Korea Nuclear Test ‘Highly Provocative’

Video

North Korea ‘front and center’ for Obama (NBC Nightly News, Feb. 12, 2013) – After Tuesday’s nuclear test, questions arose as to whether or not North Korea has advanced to the point where they could reach the continental U.S. with a missile. (00:47)

By Kari Huus

February 12, 2013

An unapologetic North Korea declared Tuesday that it had conducted a test of a nuclear bomb after the detonation was detected by the U.S. Geological Survey.

“On February 12th … we successfully conducted a third underground nuclear test in the northern underground nuclear test site,” the Daily NK reported, in a translation of Pyongyang’s announcement on the state-run news agency, KCNA.

By conducting the test, the isolated authoritarian regime made good on a Jan. 24 pledge by North Korea’s top military organ, the National Defense Commission, in further defiance of admonitions from the international community to cease and desist in its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

The test was met with condemnation from around the globe. The White House called it a “highly provocative act” that warrants “further swift and credible action from the international community.” Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said Beijing was “strongly dissatisfied and resolutely opposed” to the move by its neighbor and long-time Communist ally. …

The explosion was registered as a 5.1-magnitude seismic event by the USGS at 9:57 p.m. ET Monday. The U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence quickly judged that North Korea had “probably conducted an underground nuclear explosion” with a yield of “several kilotons.”

In a statement, President Barack Obama said the test “undermines regional stability, violates North Korea’s obligations under numerous United Nations Security Council resolutions, contravenes its [international] commitments … and increases the risk of proliferation” in the wake of what he described as a “ballistic missile launch” by North Korea on Dec. 12 [2012]. …

Professor Yan Xuetong, a top international security analyst at China’s Tsinghua University, said “the key to the North Korean nuclear challenge is in the hands of the United States, not China.”

“China is certainly opposed to North Korea’s latest nuclear test and opposed to North Korea becoming a nuclear power, but the test was aimed at the Unite States with the aim of forcing the U.S. to normalize relations with North Korea, but if the U.S. doesn’t want to play the  game of trade-off, then there is not much that China can do,” he said.

Yan, who closely follows government policy thinking on the issue, argued that “the role of economic sanctions is limited,” suggesting China will not stop economic assistance to North Korea because of the latest test.

“What China should do is to act as bridge between North Korea and the United States so that they will agree to a trade-off, with the U.S. granting recognition to the North Korean government in exchange for it giving up its nuclear program,” he said.

“If the U.S. views North Korea’s nuclear threat with the same seriousness as it views Iran’s nuclear threat, then there will be hope for solving the North Korea’s nuclear problem,” he said.

Full story

Video update

North Korea continues nuclear tests (MSNBC, Feb. 16, 2013) – Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson speaks to MSNBC’S Alex Witt about his recent trip to North Korea and their latest nuclear test. (08:59)

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2/23/2013 Update

North Korea Warns U.S. Commander of ‘Miserable Destruction’ Over Military Drills

 Bizarre North Korean fantasy video shows New York City in flames


February 23, 2013

PYONGYANG, North Korea — North Korea warned the top American commander in South Korea on Saturday of “miserable destruction” if the U.S. military presses ahead with routine joint drills with South Korea set to begin next month.

Pak Rim Su, chief of North Korea’s military delegation to the truce village of Panmunjom inside the Demilitarized Zone, sent the warning Saturday morning to Gen. James Thurman, Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency said, in a rare direct message to the U.S. commander.

South Korea and the U.S. regularly conduct joint drills such as the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises slated to take place next month.

North Korea calls the drills proof of U.S. hostility, and accuses Washington of practicing for an invasion. …

Full story

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3/8/2013 Update

North Korea Threatens ‘Pre-Emptive Nuclear Attack’

Video

North Korea threatens nuclear attack on U.S. (NBC “Today,” March 7, 2013) – The communist nation of North Korea threatened this morning to launch a pre-emptive strike, after accusing the United States of using military drills in South Korea as preparation for its own nuclear strike. (00:18)

By F. Brinley Bruton and Ian Johnston

March 7, 2013

The United Nations Security Council slapped new sanctions on North Korea over its latest nuclear test hours after Pyongyang threatened to exercise its “right to a pre-emptive nuclear attack” Thursday.

“Now that the U.S. is set to light a fuse for a nuclear war, the revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK will exercise the right to a pre-emptive nuclear attack to destroy the strongholds of the aggressors and to defend the supreme interests of the country,” the North’s foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency. “The U.S. is massively deploying armed forces for aggression, including nuclear carrier task force and strategic bombers, enough to fight a nuclear war under the smokescreen of ‘annual drills’.”

Later on Thursday, the U.N. Security Council passed sanctions aimed at North Korea’s financial transactions and illicit cargo shipments, and its criminal activities such as drugs and counterfeiting. …

The vote was passed unanimously by the 15 members of the Security Council, including China, the North’s one major diplomatic ally.

Responding to questions about Pyongyang’s threat to carry out a pre-emptive nuclear attack, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Thursday that “DPRK will achieve nothing by threats or provocations, which will only further isolate North Korea and undermine international efforts to achieve peace and stability,” in the region. He added: “I can tell you that the United States is fully capable of defending against any North Korean ballistic missile attack.” …

Saber-rattling?

On Wednesday, the South Korean military said it would strike back at North Korea and target its top leadership if Pyongyang attacks.

Tensions have ratcheted higher across the Korean Peninsula since the North, under youthful leader Kim Jong Un who took office just over a year ago after the death of his father, launched a long-range rocket last December. He followed this with a a third nuclear test on February 12.

Earlier in the week, Pyongyang threatened to end the 60-year truce that ended the Korean war.

Angus Walker, a Beijing-based correspondent with NBC News’ partner ITV News, said the current consensus was that North Korea did not have a missile that was capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.

“There is always a lot of saber-rattling when the U.S. and South Korea stage large-scale military exercises,” he said. …

Nightmare scenario

While the North has in the past threatened to hit Seoul with a “rain of fire,” claiming it can launch 250,000 artillery shells in an hour at the South Korean capital, the reality is that those artillery batteries could be destroyed very quickly, Walker said.

War-game scenarios have suggested that a war on the peninsula would be over quickly, with the North under U.S. and South Korean control within 24 hours, he said.

However, Walker suggested the nightmare scenarios are that the North could somehow get a truck-loaded device into the South or launch a “dirty bomb” in an artillery shell. …

‘Goldilocks’ diplomacy

Seoul-based analyst Daniel Pinkston, North East Asia deputy project director with the International Crisis Group, said North Korea’s comments were “a little bit more serious” than its usual hostile rhetoric. He said Pyongyang appeared to see the moves to impose further sanctions on North Korea as similar to the preludes to the U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Pinkston said President Barack Obama should respond by stressing there was no intention to invade North Korea. But he also said the president should warn North Korea that if it “were ever to use nuclear weapons it would be your complete destruction and all the leadership would perish.”

Pinkston said it would be suicide for North Korea to launch a nuclear attack, and doubted it would do so. But he added that there was “some kind of miscalculation” was always possible.

He said the U.S. had to stay in a diplomatic “Goldilocks” zone: It had to appear strong to deter North Korean aggression, but not so strong that the regime decided an attack was imminent. …

Full story

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Related report

North Korea threat of nuclear attack not easily dismissed (Analysis by Robert Windrem, senior investigative producer, NBC News, March 7, 2013) – An announcement by North Korea that it could launch a pre-emptive nuclear attack against the United States in the face of new U.N. sanctions is a predictable escalation of the isolated nation’s increasingly aggressive stance toward Washington over the past year. But experts note that Pyongyang’s recent advances in its nuclear weapons and missile programs mean that such bellicose rhetoric cannot be taken lightly. … Full story

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3/29/2013 Update

North Korea Preps Missiles to Hit U.S. Bases

On a war footing: Kim Jong Un makes notes after ordering strategic rocket forces to be on standby to strike U.S. and South Korean targets at any time
On a war footing: Kim Jong Un makes notes after ordering strategic rocket forces to be on standby to strike U.S. and South Korean targets at any time. (Photo credit: Reuters via Daily Mail)


March 28, 2013

SEOUL/WASHINGTON — Increased activities involving vehicles and troops at North Korea’s mid- and long-range missile units have been detected by South Korea’s military, Yonhap news agency said on Friday, just hours after the North’s leader ordered rocket units to be ready to attack U.S. bases. …

North Korea put its rocket units on standby on Friday to attack U.S. military bases in South Korea and the Pacific, after the United States flew two nuclear-capable stealth bombers over the Korean peninsula in a rare show of force.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signed off on the order at a midnight meeting of top generals and “judged the time has come to settle accounts with the U.S. imperialists in view of the prevailing situation,” the official KCNA news agency said.

On Thursday, the United States flew two radar-evading B-2 Spirit bombers on practice runs over South Korea, responding to a series of North Korean threats. They flew from the United States and back in what appeared to be the first exercise of its kind, designed to show America’s ability to conduct long-range, precision strikes “quickly and at will,” the U.S. military said. …

The North has launched a daily barrage of threats since early this month when the United States and the South, allies in the 1950-53 Korean War, began routine military drills.

The South and the United States have said the drills are purely defensive in nature and that no incident has taken place in the decades they have been conducted in various forms.

The United States also flew B-52 bombers over South Korea earlier this week. …

Pyongyang has also canceled an armistice agreement with the United States that ended the Korean War and cut all communications hotlines with U.S. forces, the United Nations and South Korea.

“The North Koreans have to understand that what they’re doing is very dangerous,” U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters at the Pentagon.

“We must make clear that these provocations by the North are taken by us very seriously and we’ll respond to that.”

Full story

Video

Hagel reacts to North Korea’s ‘belligerent tone’ (NBC News, March 28, 2013) – U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and General Martin Dempsey discuss the escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula and the recent training missions conducted by U.S. stealth bombers. (04:21)

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Related analysis

Korean nightmare: Experts ponder potential conflict (Andrew Salmon, CNN, March 27, 2013) — “The casualties in a short time would be unlike anything we have seen before: hundreds of thousands in days, millions in weeks. … The fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria would pale in comparison.” … Full report


Kim Jong Un seen in what appears to be a military command center, signing an order to ready his forces to target the U.S. mainland and American bases in East Asia. The map against the wall appears to show the West coast of the United States, with the text reading “U.S. Mainland Strike Plan” (미본토타격계획).

North Korea’s threats: Five things to know (Matt Smith, CNN, March 29, 2013) — It seems barely a day passes without another North Korean threat, and coming after the December launch of a long-range rocket and a third nuclear test in February, the florid declarations from Pyongyang have gotten the attention of the United States and its allies. So why now, and how nervous should you be? Here are five things to consider. … Full report

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4/3/2013 Update

How Do You Solve a Problem Like North Korea? Three Viewpoints

Video

Kim Jong-un dismantles years of diplomacy (NBC Nightly News, April 2, 2013) – Vowing to reopen the Yongbyong nuclear reactor, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un showed no sign he’s listening to the outside world and has no intention of giving up their nuclear weapons. NBC’s Richard Engel reports. (03:30)

By Tracy Connor
Staff Writer

April 2, 2013

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s brinkmanship is in full bloom. He’s ordered the missiles prepped, dismissed the armistice and announced plans to bring a nuclear reactor back on line.

The U.S. response — a restrained show of force by fighter jets and warships, along with comments that simultaneously decry and downplay the threat — has not stopped the threats.

Foreign-policy analysts agree the situation is troubling, though there’s a deep difference of opinion on what approach would convince Kim to play nice.

Ignore him

The U.S. routine of flexing its muscles whenever Pyongyang lobs another threat Washington’s way is playing right into Kim’s hands, said Doug Bandow, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. Like many a parenting expert, he believes the White House should react to North Korea’s bad behavior by ignoring it.

Ordering fighter and bomber flyovers meant to show the U.S. means business “just reinforces their behavior,” Bandow said. “It gives them attention, showing how this bankrupt, starving country can get a response from the great superpower. …

The solution is for the U.S. to disengage. “Why is North Korea our problem?” he said.

Punish him

Ignoring the threats would be a terrible mistake, according to Gordon Chang, author of “Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World,” who says the U.S. should be stepping up action against a nuclear-capable North Korea.

He said B-2 bomber and F-22 Raptor overflights should continue …

The time has come for stepped-up interdiction of North Korean shipping and aircraft movements, to stop Pyongyang from selling nuclear technology to Iran with the cooperation of China, he said. …

The U.S. should one-up Kim’s declaration that the armistice in place for 60 years has been replaced by a state of war — and agree that the armistice is over, so the U.S. is legally able to use force. …

Hug it out

Little more than a year into the job held by his father and his grandfather, Kim has managed to paint himself into a corner — and the U.S. needs to give him a way out, says Han Park, a University of Georgia professor who has served as an unofficial negotiator in North Korea.

Because he has not consolidated his power at home, the fledgling leader cannot back off. “There has to be a face-saving device,” Park said.

“Sanctions will not work. They have never worked,” the professor said. “It will aggravate the North Korean leadership even more.”

Now that it has some nuclear capability, Pyongyang will not relinquish it unless its security is assured, he said. And the only way to do that is bestowing diplomatic recognition on North Korea and working toward a peace treaty. …

Full story

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4/4/2013 Update

North Korea Warns Its Military Allowed to Wage Nuke Strikes Against U.S.

Video

Will North Korea follow through on nuclear threats? (NBC Nightly News, April 3, 2013) – U.S. officials tell NBC News they believe North Korea does have the capability to put a nuclear weapon on a missile and that they have missile deliverable nukes. Those missiles, however, cannot go more than 1,000 miles. NBC’s Richard Engel reports. (03:06)

By Alastair Jamieson, Jim Miklaszewski and Courtney Kube
Staff Writer

April 3, 2013

North Korea escalated its provocative rhetoric on Thursday, warning that its military is authorized to wage “cutting-edge smaller, lighter and diversified” nuclear strikes to protect against the United States.

“The moment of explosion is approaching fast. No one can say a war will break out in Korea or not and whether it will break out today or tomorrow,” read the statement of an unnamed military spokesman. …

U.S. response

The warlike rhetoric is the latest escalation in a series of threats from Pyongyang, which claims the joint U.S. and South Korean military exercises taking place in the South are in preparation for an invasion. …

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Wednesday that North Korea’s provocations are “a real and clear danger and threat” to U.S. interests and Washington is taking them seriously.

“We are doing everything we can … to defuse that situation on the peninsula,” Hagel said after a speech at the National Defense University at Fort McNair in Washington, D.C.

“I hope the North will ratchet this very dangerous rhetoric down,” he said, adding that there is a pathway to peace but only if Pyongyang decides to be “a responsible member of the world community.”

The U.S. has responded to the diplomatic crisis with more than words, dispatching two warships to the western Pacific to be on alert for missiles and conducting bomber and fighter flyovers.

Defense officials also said an advanced anti-ballistic missile system will be sent to the U.S. military base in Guam in response to North Korean threats targeting Guam and U.S. military facilities in the region. …

Full story

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4/10/2013 Update

North Korea Warns Foreigners to Leave South in Advance of ‘Merciless, Sacred, All-Out War’

Video

Hagel: N. Korea ‘skating close to a dangerous line’ (NBC News, April 10, 2013) – U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and General Martin Dempsey discuss the situation unfolding on the Korean Peninsula on Wednesday, April 10, 2013. (02:36)

By Christine Kim and Joyce Lee

April 9, 2013

SEOUL – North Korea warned foreigners in South Korea on Tuesday to leave the country because they were at risk in the event of conflict, the latest threat of war from Pyongyang.

Soaring tensions on the peninsula have been fuelled by North Korean anger over the imposition of U.N. sanctions after its last nuclear arms test in February, creating one of the worst crises since the end of the Korean War in 1953. …

KCNA said  once war broke out “it will be an all-out war, a merciless, sacred, retaliatory  war to be waged by (North Korea).” …

Earlier on Tuesday, North Korean workers failed to turn up at a factory complex operated with South Korea, effectively shutting down the last major symbol of cooperation between the hostile neighbors. …

Pyongyang has shown no sign of preparing its 1.2 million-strong army for war, indicating the threats could be partly intended for domestic purposes to bolster Kim Jong Un, 30, the third in his family to lead the reclusive country. …

News of the Kaesong closure diverted attention from speculation that the North was about to launch some sort of provocative act this week — perhaps a missile launch or new nuclear test. …

Few experts had expected Pyongyang to jeopardize Kaesong, which employs more than 50,000 North Koreans making household goods for 123 South Korean firms. …

China, the North’s sole diplomatic and financial ally, has shown increasing impatience with Pyongyang. Russian President Vladimir Putin said hostilities could create a cataclysm worse than the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

The North is also angry at weeks of joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises off the coast of the peninsula, with B-2 stealth bombers dispatched from their U.S. bases.

But the United States announced the postponement last weekend of a long-planned missile launch, a move officials said was aimed at easing tensions on the peninsula. …

Full story

Video

Is North Korea ready to fire another missile? (MSNBC “NewsNation,” April 11, 2013) – Time magazine’s Bobby Ghosh talks about the new round of war rhetoric coming from North Korea on Thursday. (02:10)

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4/12/2013 Update

North Korea Likely Has Nuclear Missiles

Video

North Korea missile launch could come at any time, U.S. officials say (NBC Nightly News, April 11, 2013) – Both the U.S. and Japan have defense systems ready should North Korea’s missiles pose a threat. NBC’s Richard Engel reports. (03:32)

By Jim Miklaszewski and Becky Bratu

April 11, 2013

President Barack Obama called for an end to North Korea’s “belligerent approach” Thursday, but said the United States will take all necessary steps to protect its people and meet its obligations to allies in the region — meanwhile it was also officially revealed that the Pentagon believes the rogue nation likely has nuclear-capable missiles. …

A recent assessment by the Defense Intelligence Agency claims with “moderate confidence” that North Korea has learned how to miniaturize a nuclear weapon so that it can be mounted on a ballistic missile but that the weapon’s “reliability will be low.”

The public revelation of previously undisclosed information came Thursday from Rep. Doug Lamborn during a budget hearing before the House Armed Service Committee. …

In response to the revelation, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said it “would be inaccurate to suggest that the North Korean regime has fully  tested, developed, or demonstrated the kinds of nuclear capabilities” Lamborn mentioned.

Gen. James Clapper, director of National Intelligence, tried to distance the administration from the assessment, saying it is not accurate to suggest that the regime has “fully developed and tested” the kind of nuclear weapons mentioned by Lamborn. That, however, does not mean the assessment is inaccurate, as it did not say the weapons were fully tested. …

Full story

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4/15/2013 Update

Looking for Logic in North Korea’s Threats


North Koreans bow to the statues of Kim Il Sung (1912-1994), on the left, and Kim Jong-il (1941-2011) on Mansu Hill in Pyongyang in April 2012. (Photo credit: J.A. de Roo via Wikimedia Commons)

By Tim Sullivan

April 13, 2013

SEOUL, South Korea — To the outside world, the talk often appears to border on the lunatic, with the poor, hungry and electricity-starved nation threatening to lay waste to the United States’ cities in an atomic firestorm, or to overrun South Korea in a lightning attack.

Enemy capitals, North Korea said, will be turned “into a sea of fire.” North Korea’s first strikes will be “a signal flare marking the start of a holy war.” Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal is “mounted on launch pads, aimed at the windpipe of our enemies.”

And it’s not all talk. The profoundly isolated, totalitarian nation has launched two rockets over the past year. A February nuclear test resulted in still more U.N. sanctions. Another missile test may be in the planning stages.

But there is also a logic behind North Korea’s behavior, a logic steeped in internal politics, one family’s fear of losing control and the ways that a weak, poverty-racked nation can extract concessions from some of the world’s most fearsome military powers.

It’s also steeped in another important fact: It works.

At various points over the past two decades, North Korea’s cycles of threats and belligerence have pressured the international community into providing billions of dollars in aid and, for a time, helped push South Korea’s government into improving ties.

Most important to Pyongyang, it has helped the Kim family remain in power decades after the fall of its patron, the Soviet Union, and long after North Korea had become an international pariah. Now the third generation of Kims, the baby-faced Kim Jong Un, is warning the world that it may soon face the wrath of Pyongyang. If the virulence of Kim Jong Un’s threats has come as a surprise, he appears largely to be following in his father’s diplomatic footsteps.

“You keep playing the game as long as it works,” said Christopher Voss, a longtime FBI hostage negotiator and now the CEO of the Black Swan Group, a strategic advisory firm focusing on negotiation. …

The predictability of the pattern is an important sign to scholars that at least part of what is going on has been considered carefully and that Pyongyang has clear goals in mind.

In other words: No matter how irrational the situation looks, North Korea’s leadership is not crazy.

Instead, many observers believe, North Korea simply wants the world to believe they are crazy, leveraging the international community’s fear of unpredictability to magnify their power. …

Kim Jong Un has to try to cement his popular support, ensure the backing of this key elite and negotiate his way through the complex waters of international diplomacy, a juggling trick that may explain why the threats, and the volume of those threats, are more bellicose than normal. …

Full story

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4/24/2013 Update

North Korea Blinked in Missile Standoff, But Will Threaten Again

Slide presentation: North Korea’s young leader, Kim Jong Un

Analysis by Jim Maceda

April 23, 2013

SEOUL, South Korea — After weeks of a standoff that, at times, worried even the most stoic South Koreans, the North blinked. The latest North Korea crisis is over, but the question is: for how long?

The view doesn’t look encouraging. North Korea’s medium-range missiles remain locked on their launchers; U.S. and South Korean destroyers still ply Korea’s coastline.

Across the region, Patriot anti-missile batteries are on the ready. One top U.S. nuclear expert says North Korea will need to test-fire more missiles and nuclear arms in the future.

But at least for now, instead of drumbeats of war, Pyongyang is sending out feelers about talks and piling on its demands: The complete lifting of United Nations’ sanctions, a permanent end to U.S.-South Korean war games, and lots of apologies. The latest came on Tuesday with the North insisting it must be recognized as a nuclear weapons state, rejecting a U.S. condition that it agree to give up its nuclear arms program before talks can begin. …

We’ve been here before. The Obama administration calls it “a cycle of provocation.” North Korea deploys threatening words and actions – capped off with a real missile or nuclear test – in order to gain concessions from the U.S. and South Korea, usually in the form of cash. The North then retreats — until the next crisis.

Some Korea experts say Washington has failed to break that cycle, despite its efforts at “strategic patience” – a highfalutin expression for avoiding engagement with the North while letting sanctions bite.

And they blame that U.S. policy as much as North Korea for the impasse.

“The problem is that, when there’s a sense of crisis, the U.S. doesn’t want to talk to Pyongyang because it would be rewarding bad behavior,” said John Delury, a professor at Seoul’s Yonsei University. “But then when the crisis abates, the U.S. doesn’t want to talk with Pyongyang [either] because it’s not a priority.”

Analysts like Delury say it’s only a matter of time before tensions, once again, will rise to dangerous levels. That’s because the U.S. keeps learning the wrong lessons, so it’s stuck in a low-grade, perpetual crisis with North Korea.

They say the U.S. has failed to see that North Korea is really after security first and foremost, followed by recognition and international legitimacy, not aid. If they were just after money, Pyongyang would not have shut down its Keasong Industrial Park, a joint North-South venture which generates billions of dollars annually in trade, during the latest crisis.

North Korea’s provocations are often seen in the West as a kind of pro-active blackmail, but Delury said that’s another U.S. misperception.

“North Korea is reactive,” he explained. “Half of its provocations are counter or defensive moves to assert its strength in the face of far more powerful U.S., South Korean and Japanese forces arrayed against them.”

It’s true that, during the most recent crisis, the tide turned away from confrontation only when the U.S. dialed down its displays of nuclear-capable weaponry, like B2 stealth bombers and F-22 super fighters, used as a show of force during war maneuvers close to North Korea’s border.

Much, of course, depends on the extent to which China – North Korea’s main benefactor with a hand on the tiny country’s food and fuel taps – can persuade Kim that he can rule without the need for nuclear weapons as his ultimate guarantee.

But the U.S. — Korea watchers here say — needs to grasp that North Korea’s goal is to survive in a tough neighborhood, surrounded by nuclear powers – China, Russia and U.S. forces.

If the U.S. wants to break its perpetual cycle of crisis with North Korea, it may well have to bite the bullet – these analysts say – and sit down and negotiate with a “nuclear North Korea,” without officially recognizing the state, or its atomic capability.

Rather than cash handouts, that could open the door to serious discussions about North Korea’s economic development – something that Kim himself recently called a top priority. Getting there, though, is fraught with difficulty – it would require massive amounts of political will and constant communication through a high-level U.S. special envoy to North Korea, someone like George Mitchell or Madeleine Albright.

It would also mean a leap of faith by the young Kim – if indeed he is in control of his country [link added], as U.S. officials now believe – and the unlearning of wrong lessons by the U.S.

But the alternative, says Delury, is much worse – more bristling standoffs in the future, with even more risk that an accident or miscalculation could trigger a disaster. “Both sides have gone from trading statements about who is really ready for war, to trading statements about who is really ready for dialogue. But that doesn’t mean anything has really changed at a fundamental level.” …

Full story

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5/4/2013 Update

Pentagon: North Korea Moving Closer to Developing Nuke That Can Hit U.S.


A man walks by a poster reading “Severe punishment to the U.S. and their followers” in the central district of Pyongyang, North Korea, on Thursday, May 2, 2013. (Photo credit: Jon Chol Jin / AP)

By Andrew Rafferty

May 2, 2013

North Korean advances in nuclear technology are moving the country closer to its goal of being able to strike the United States with an atomic weapon, according to a new Pentagon report submitted to Congress on Thursday.

Though the unclassifed version of the report gave no timetable for when North Korea may have the ability to hit North American soil with a weapon, it did say recent progress is in line with the country’s desires to soon be able to carry out such an attack. …

The Pentagon assessment to lawmakers is required by law and comes after a period of escalating tensions between the two countries. The report calls North Korea one of America’s “most critical security challenges” in the region because of its pursuit of nuclear weapons coincides with “provocative and destabilizing behavior.” …

Still, the report also noted that North Korea has yet to complete some of the necessary steps required for the country to develop a weapon that can reach the U.S.  It stated that they have not yet tested a re-entry vehicle necessary for a warhead to get back inside the Earth’s atmosphere and hit a target.

The report also indicates that newly minted leader Kim Jong Un will follow in his father’s footsteps in practicing “coercive diplomacy” and development of military capabilities to deter outside attacks.

Full report

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Related report

Report on North Korea’s Military and Security Developments (U.S. Dept. of Defense, May 2, 2013) — The Defense Department published a congressionally mandated, unclassified report on the Military and Security Developments involving the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea today.

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Related reports on this site

Image: Kim Jong Un rides a horse
Kim Jong Un rides a horse in this undated still image taken from video released by North Korean state TV KRT on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2012. (Photo credit: KRT via Reuters)

North Korea Threat Assessment: Psychological Profile of Kim Jong-un (April 8, 2013)

Looming North Korean Nuclear Threat (Jan. 11, 2011)

North Korea ‘Very Dangerous’ (Nov. 22, 2010)

Kim Jong-un Succession in North Korea (Oct. 11, 2010)

North Korea Nuclear Threat (June 16, 2009)

Kim Jong Il Threat Assessment (May 31, 2009)

Korea Headache Looms for Obama (Jan. 28, 2009)

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