Kim Renews Nuclear Attack Bluster

Over the last month, much of the world has reacted with alarm and dismay as North Korea continually threatens to strike South Korea and the United States with nuclear weapons.

The United State positioned warships and anti-missile systems in the region and warned that it would defend South Korea if the North attacked. And to strengthen that point, the US Air Force flew B-2 stealth bombers within sight of North Korea.

But now it can be told: Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s pudgy young leader, was putting on a ridiculous melodrama that played out on the world stage. And too many people fell for it—even though we’ve seen all of this before, more than once, though not in such a concentrated, nearly hysterical form.

If there’s any doubt that all of it was simply a performance, look back just a few months, to New Year’s Day. That’s when Kim gave a televised speech to the nation calling for reconciliation with the South.

“The past records of inter-Korean relations,” he intoned, “show that confrontation between fellow countrymen leads to nothing but war.” Kim added that he intended to embark on “an all-out struggle” to rejuvenate the nation’s destitute economy.

His mandarins certainly didn’t like that. After all, they’re rich, fat, and happy, and any change in the system would threaten that. For many years now, China has provided them with jewelry, fine wine, Cuban cigars, perfume, yachts, and every manner of luxury goods beyond imagining—as well as bundles of cash.

Most of these are middle-aged men, and after former leader Kim Jong-il died in 2011, suddenly they were faced with taking direction from a new leader who was in his late 20s. That would be difficult for many people worldwide, but particularly so in Asia’s age-hierarchical culture.

After past episodes like this, the West usually agreed to negotiate, and out of that North Korea usually got new foreign aid. This is a well-worn pattern. So here we go again: In early April, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (a South Korean diplomat) said he believed that tensions had grown so high that negotiations were necessary this time, too, because the North appears to be “on a collision course with the international community.”

Since then, North Korea has offered to talk—if the international community agrees to lift sanctions first. That did not bring the desired response, so last week North Korean generals ratcheted up the threats again—declaring once again that they were prepared to launch intercontinental missiles with nuclear warheads. 

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency quoted its air force commander, Ri Pyong-chol, as saying: “Stalwart pilots, once given a sortie order, will load nuclear bombs, instead of fuel for return, and storm enemy strongholds to blow them up.”

Don’t believe him. Once again, it’s just a ploy. Nothing more.

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