Analysis: NKorea threat may be more bark than bite

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University students punch the air as they march through Kim Il Sung Square in downtown Pyongyang, North Korea, Friday, March 29, 2013. Tens of thousands of North Koreans turned out for the mass rally at the main square in Pyongyang in support of their leader Kim Jong Un’s call to arms. Placards read: “Let’s crush the puppet traitor group” and “Let’s rip the puppet traitors to death!” AP

SEOUL, South Korea — Across North Korea, soldiers are gearing up for battle and shrouding their jeeps and vans with camouflage netting. Newly painted signboards and posters call for “death to the U.S. imperialists” and urge the people to fight with “arms, not words.”

But even as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is issuing midnight battle cries to his generals to ready their rockets, he and his million-man army know full well that a successful missile strike on U.S. targets would be suicide for the outnumbered, out-powered North Korean regime.

Despite the hastening drumbeat of warfare, none of the key players in the region wants or expects another Korean War — not even the North Koreans.

But by seemingly bringing the region to the very brink of conflict with threats and provocations, Pyongyang is aiming to draw attention to the tenuousness of the armistice designed to maintain peace on the Korean Peninsula, a truce North Korea recently announced it would no longer honor as it warned that war could break out at any time.

It’s all part of a plan to force Washington to the negotiating table, pressure the new president in Seoul to change policy on North Korea, and build unity at home — without triggering a full-blown war if all goes well.

In July, it will be 60 years since North Korea and China signed an armistice with the U.S. and the United Nations to bring an end to three years of fighting that cost millions of lives. The designated Demilitarized Zone has evolved into the most heavily guarded border in the world.

It was never intended to be a permanent border. But six decades later, North and South remain divided, with Pyongyang feeling abandoned by the South Koreans in the quest for reunification and threatened by the Americans.

In that time, South Korea has blossomed from a poor, agrarian nation of peasants into the world’s 15th largest economy while North Korea is struggling to find a way out of a Cold War chasm that has left it with a per capita income on par with sub-Saharan Africa.

The Chinese troops who fought alongside the North Koreans have long since left. But 28,500 American troops are still stationed in South Korea and 50,000 more are in nearby Japan. For weeks, the U.S. and South Korea have been showing off their military might with a series of joint exercises that Pyongyang sees a rehearsal for invasion.

On Thursday, the U.S. military confirmed that those drills included two nuclear-capable B-2 stealth bombers that can unload the U.S. Air Force’s largest conventional bomb — a 30,000-pound super bunker buster — powerful enough to destroy North Korea’s web of underground military tunnels.

It was a flexing of military muscle by Washington, perhaps aimed not only at Pyongyang but at Beijing as well.

In Pyongyang, Kim Jong Un reacted swiftly, calling an emergency meeting of army generals and ordering them to be prepared to strike if the U.S. actions continue. A photo distributed by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency showed Kim in a military operations room with maps detailing a “strike plan” behind him in a very public show of supposedly sensitive military strategy.

North Korea cites the U.S. military threat as a key reason behind its need to build nuclear weapons, and has poured a huge chunk of its small national budget into defense, science and technology. In December, scientists launched a satellite into space on the back of a long-range rocket using technology that could easily be converted for missiles; in February, they tested an underground nuclear device as part of a mission to build a bomb they can load on a missile capable of reaching the U.S.

However, what North Korea really wants is legitimacy in the eyes of the U.S. — and a peace treaty. Pyongyang wants U.S. troops off Korean soil, and the bombs and rockets are more of an expensive, dangerous safety blanket than real firepower. They are the only real playing card North Korea has left, and the bait they hope will bring the Americans to the negotiating table.

Narushige Michishita, director of the Security and International Studies Program at Japan’s National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, isn’t convinced North Korea is capable of attacking Guam, Hawaii or the U.S. mainland. He says Pyongyang hasn’t successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile.

But its medium-range Rodong missiles, with a range of about 800 miles (1,300 kilometers), are “operational and credible” and could reach U.S. bases in Japan, he says.

More likely than such a strike, however, is a smaller-scale incident, perhaps off the Koreas’ western coast, that would not provoke the Americans to unleash their considerable firepower. For years, the waters off the west coast have been a battleground for naval skirmishes between the two Koreas because the North has never recognized the maritime border drawn unilaterally by the U.N.

As threatening as Kim’s call to arms may sound, its main target audience may be the masses at home in North Korea.

For months, the masterminds of North Korean propaganda have pinpointed this year’s milestone Korean War anniversary as a prime time to play up Kim’s military credibility as well as to push for a peace treaty. By creating the impression that a U.S. attack is imminent, the regime can foster a sense of national unity and encourage the people to rally around their new leader.

Inside Pyongyang, much of the military rhetoric feels like theatrics. It’s not unusual to see people toting rifles in North Korea, where soldiers and checkpoints are a fixture in the heavily militarized society.

But more often than not in downtown Pyongyang, the rifle stashed in a rucksack is a prop and the “soldier” is a dancer, one of the many performers rehearsing for a Korean War-themed extravaganza set to debut later this year.

More than 100,000 soldiers, students and ordinary workers were summoned Friday to Kim Il Sung Square in downtown Pyongyang to pump their fists in support of North Korea’s commander in chief. But elsewhere, it was business as usual at restaurants and shops, and farms and factories, where the workers have heard it all before.

“Tensions rise almost every year around the time the U.S.-South Korean drills take place, but as soon as those drills end, things go back to normal and people put those tensions behind them quite quickly,” said Sung Hyun-sang, the South Korean president of a clothing maker operating in the North Korean border town of Kaesong. “I think and hope that this time won’t be different.”

And in a telling sign that even the North Koreans don’t expect war, the national airline, Air Koryo, is adding flights to its spring lineup and preparing to host the scores of tourists they expect to flock to Pyongyang despite the threats issuing forth from the Supreme Command.

War or no war, it seems Pyongyang remains open for business.

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  • ryq24

    Hope they are right! Coz if the North Korean really keep their word it would be a nuclear war! And that is a very scary scenario!

    • JanofVA

      Don’t worry, it would only be scary for the poor North Koreans because the nuclear weapons will be exploding on the ground before they even leave North Korea…

      • ARIKUTIK

        Nothing to worry North Koreans is used to war mongering. It’s the only thing their government do….. And no one can complain …. weeeeeeee……. byeeeeee >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

  • Noel

    Agree. A robber does not tell you he’s going to rob you. A killer or attacker doesn’t usually tell cops he’s going to commit the crime. On the other hand, too many threats may push someone to commit it. Pride and credibility are at stake. The young leader Kim could be more aggressive than his father.

    • JanofVA

      I wish he would finally, once and for all do it….maybe North Korea can finally be silenced…I’m so sick and tired of the empty threats….time to get rid of the tyrants…

      • ARIKUTIK

        I wish the international and local media will share some of the profits from this juicy war news mongering.

      • Noel

        When Japan was stubborn in WW2, America dropped bomb at Hiroshima. That ended the war. This time, it’s nuke. It’s done by just pressing the computer bottom and the disaster would be thousands more than atomic. Whoever presses the bottom first wins. And who can tell if some guys from either side panic and press first?

      • ever green

        bro — button….not bottom….:)

      • Noel

        Sorry bro. Lagi kong iniisip ang sa ibaba o ilalim. Thanks for the correction.

      • leubas

        Di ba ang bomba na hinulog sa Hiroshima a nuke din?…for your info lang bata!

      • Noel

        Hoy tanda, iba ang nuke sa atomic bomb.

  • BatangSingapore

    kapag natalo ang north korea ay ang ibig sabihin nun talo rin ang tsina hahhahahha.

  • mamer2

    “…more bark than bite.”
    WHY…, did you think there was any other…?

  • dodong1

    bring it on!! we are ready to kick their A$$E$!

  • Jundemar Cabeguin

    crossing the DMZ is suicide for NOKOR

  • doublecross

    US has no balls, they are only in print media. NK has the right for nuclear arsenal for their own good.

    • ARIKUTIK

      The US has no balls but North Korea has no food. All her soldiers will immediately die of hunger with out food aid……. Whei !

    • Crazy_horse101010

      i can see why you are a doublecross. america has no balls then why are they in wars. i dare you to go up to a american marine and tell him he has no balls. whats funny when america shows balls everyone calls them imperialists and war mongers so which is it

      • John_Cruz

        US Marines do not take POW againts Japanese in WWII and the Iraqi rebels in Fallujaj! they are born and trained to kill!

    • mariovill1950

      America,”o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave”.

    • tonygadoy

      Where is yours(balls)? Have you shown any?: Do you know what is nuclear arsenal is, and what is good for everybody? Do you have a bit at least a knowledge or understanding of what you really mean? BOBO.

    • white scorpion

      donot underestimate US. your impression is that they had no balls. BUT, when they decide to fight, it is more dangerours than no balls. besides i heard one reputable congressman said “us military is 500 years ahead of our time.” watch out!

  • mad_as_Hamlet

    * * * * * * * * * *

    Inside North Korea and as far as its citizens are concerned, freedom of expression is completely alien and unheard-of. But in the world stage, no country can beat the manner and extent that North Korea exercises it. It can shout “Kill!” or “Fire!” anytime it likes.

    I hope the saying about the barking dog seldom biting is true. But the problem is do dogs know about it.

  • farmerpo

    Kim Jong Un is trying to provoke the US and SoKor in the hope that China will be dragged into the fray. If any move is perceive to be a prelude to a real attack by NoKor, the kid will be taken out in a surgical strike. Saddam did less when he was excised like a tumor. The technological capability of the US and SoKor is now far far better than the one used in Iraq.

  • UrHONOR

    USA should let NOKOR be. They like to see their maker sooner than later, so let it be. Gusto ng mamayapa ng mga NOKOR dahil sa hirap ng buhay na walang makain. Mabuti na ngang mamatay ng madalian kaysa mamatay ng dahan-dahan!

  • Albert Einstien

    ANALYSIS maybe wrong… clandestinely NK might have been a recipient of advanced CHINA & RUSSIA weapons tech….capable of reaching any country in the world & unloading terror & devastation the world has not seen……or… they might have been given a SUPER advance weaponry not yet tested in any WAR…no leader would dare & publicly announce to the world that they are contemplating a missile strike on U.S. targets…….even the likes of SADDAM & GAdDAFI ….would NOT dare such a bold US threat……If US/SK will attack NK…..for sure NK will be defeated but both US & SK will be severely weakened….WW3 will begin with a damage US …..this might be a calculated risk ..superpowers opposed to US world policing might have been planning for decades…..US should not be dragged to missile SHOOTING SPREE with NK ultimately even after they pulverized & erased NK from the map of the world US/SK might lose the WAR…..while seeing their nations tattered & people dying if not from war devastation or sickness…but also from hunger & thirst…WAR is stupid & costly…NO SUBSTITUTE for PEACE & RESPECT…

    • Simplify1

      The risk of “clandestine supply of “live” nuclear missiles from either china or russia (or even iran if they have one) can easily be discounted. All nuclear warheads have their own uranium signature that can be traced to the original source, similar to dna…. delivery may be clandestine but once used, the source will be immediately determined.

      The big boys i.e. US, Russia, China, Britain and France know how to use nuclear bombs only as a deterrent not as a first strike. They know full well that in a nuclear Armageddon, no one wins…. NK is a different story..its like giving a known bully an M4 bushmaster and allow him to bring this to a fight in school…

      • Albert Einstien

        correct NK youthful leader ( kublai khan & alexander the great inspired leadership ) maybe a very useful & good ARMed puppet ….that is why communist BIG BOYs & allies are laughing in silence to panicky US now…!

      • Crazy_horse101010

        funny im a american and im not panicking and what do you know nada. we know he cant hit us . but we can hit him i hate people who think they are experts but know nothing

      • Albert Einstien

        dont panic it’s not your job anyway…just work & work..USA…is a .BRITISH created community instead of paying for eternal security guard….. where citizens of multi-national origin converged which will lose their identity …that is what the land of the free & the great american dream stands for ( actually if you just realized it, it is a nightmare for life ) ….lose citizenship & work for 18 hours a day..till death ..so that US will have lots of taxes & will police the world..to protect the BRITISH empire till the end of times…in SHORT SLAVERY for LIFE..i’m happy for you…the BEST part of it is that the BRITS made sure you didn’t know …that you & your posterity are their SLAVEs for LIFE ……… : > )

    • tonygadoy

      Super exaggeration by saying that NK is clandestinely a recipient of more advanced China and Russia’s weaponry. It’s a bull to be Einstein perhaps. Russia and china’s leaders are not stupid idiots by giving away their deterrence. North Koreans are just their pawns for a gambit and not worthy to be defended anymore by their most advance missiles. Even the South Koreans are not rattled. The US are just doing their usual reactions just like in the Gulf of Hormuz and such cases in Scarborough, and Spratley’s where they have deployed carriers and subs. What we are seeing are just normal reactions by SOKOR and US to be ready at any moment. Your over excitement for the demise of US leads you to exaggerate even PANIC.

      • white scorpion

        besides, if china and russia gave their ace weaponry to a CRAZY leader. you never know, the crazy guy might on against them in the future when the crazy guy cannot get his perceive due.

      • tonygadoy

        You hit it right. Especially the fat boy of NOKOR is so unpredictable.

    • white scorpion

      the danger would be if north korea perceive he is in danger, or about to be attack. eventhough, in reality, nobody minds him. for sure, US and SK will not start the war.

  • Isagani Gatmaitan

    It would have been very different if there’s crude oil underneath that fat kid. Meron siyang WMD pero di siya pinapatulan. Ang Iraq wala ngunit…

    • MULEN

      The theorized invasion would not happen without the blessing of China. The neighboring giant would not let other countries lay their hands on the oil reserves kung meron man. Spratly islands nga na malayo sa mainland pinag-interesan, yan pa kayang North Korea.

  • siegfeil

    hope they will not bite, or its suicide kawawa naman sila. Nasaan na yung kahol nang kahol noon si Omar nang Taliban Afghan, Bin Laden, Saddam……

  • virgoyap

    North Korea is having a nightmare. They are dreaming a bad dream. What a pity!!

  • Hey_Dudes

    Well, what can one say? Here is a people long suffering from sanctions from the west, suffering from extreme mother nature’s weather wrath and this constant badgering from USA and allies. You factor that all together and a hungry population couldn’t care less if they get bombed into kingdom come. But those who think they have this rogue nation into a corner, for sure, before they go, many will go with them once those nuclear warheads leave their silos.

    • leubas

      Dre wala ng Silos ngayon,,,palagay ko laking Beatles ka rin heheheh

  • banana na

    sana, N. Korea just barking but papaano kung totoo ang threat nila sa US, ang kawawa jan ay ang S. Korea at Japan na may US BASES malapit lang kasi sila sa NOKOR…sana, they are just barking, aso namin, araw-araw they are barking pero they don’t bite…haaa

  • Simplify1

    if the US allows NK to make the FIRST STRIKE before the US retaliates, at least half million american lives (soldiers and dependents) living in okinawa, guam and south korea will be lost…. A CONSEQUENT AMERICAN COUNTER STRIKE will definitely erase more than 5 million NK lives from the face of the earth including kim jung un’s life….

    BOTTOM LINE… do you think that any american in his right mind will say that the sacrifice of half a million american lives is compensated by the death of Kim and more than 5,000,000 of NORTH KOREAN LIVES? The ordinary joe blow down the street will only agree to one thing…. THE DEATH OF KIM VS NO AMERICAN LIFE SACRIFICED…

    TO ACHIEVE THIS OBJECTIVE, THE US SHOULD INITIATE THE FIRST STRIKE AND MINIMIZE LOSS OF AMERICAN LIVES….NUKE EM!….SIMPLE…

    • white scorpion

      NK missiles cannot reach US or SK or any other nation. US has patriots which can shoot down missiles. assuming 100% accurate. if not, well !!!! hide your butt…….

      • Simplify1

        It is scary enough to think that while the Israelis’ dome missile shield was effective to stop 80% of the rockets fired at them by the Hezbollah, that’s 20% that weren’t stopped…. now imagine one of those that missed was loaded with a nuclear warhead…..

  • Lapu Lapu

    The fat boy is playing too much play station games while the rest of the nation crying of food..

    The NK population has suffered enough. Their axis of evil regimes days are numbered. Once they are gone, you expect a unification talks to take place between north and south.

  • doublecross

    the david and golaithe misnomer……

  • doublecross

    NK assessment to the US, i’ve got my guns, show yours!

  • Lauro

    North Korea is as small as a mosquito carrying dengue … a menace, can be controlled and can kill only a few!!!! The buzzzzzzzzz is irritating though!!!!!

  • doublecross

    why US hate NK…..?

    • Simplify1

      where have you been?

  • JosengSisiw1

    to US: bomb them please…..

  • $18209031

    NorkOr gets its food from across Chinese sources at Yalu River crossing. It will survive even if sanctions being imposed for decades. If war breaks, NK will lose but expect to see Seoul flatten to the ground as 1400 artillery and rocket batteries are aimed for that purpose.

    • white scorpion

      only the military are well fed, not it’s citizen.

  • white scorpion

    the north is just looking for adoptor. even if the chief declares war. is he sure that his generals will fight. i don’t think so. look at iraq. saddam kept on talking tough. the opposite happened in actual fight. the generals at his side is still the generals during his grandfather era. there’s no certainty they will fight an actual war.

  • gryzyxwoz

    Watch out. With a delusional madman at the helm, anything can happen,

  • b0b

    The threat of Kim Jong Un and the display of North Korea’s ‘military might’ is actually aimed to the North Korean audience. It is an indirect appeal to the military and to the North Korean citizens to support him. The young leader knows how to play his game. Behind the firm and brave stance, there is actually a little boy cowing in fear… fearful of his own military and people.

  • doublecross

    why US comes to terms in war, against the will of one’s country and peaceful advocacy. if one’s country never comes to terms to the US, war is their mens?
    crazy advocacy!

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