China Losing Patience as North Korea Threatens Nuclear Strike on U.S.
March 7, 2013 4:37 PM
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North Korea also promises traditional assault on South Korea
It's been an at times bizarre, at other times alarming last couple of weeks for U.S. and North Korean relations. With North Korea's economy
, the nation's young dictator Kim Jong-un, much like his father, has turned to dire threats against the U.S., despite a professed love for American culture. The love/hate relationship between Jung-un and America took an alarming turn this week when North Korea threw out a decades long armistice with its democratic southern neighbor.
I. We Will Nuke You
Now North Korea has gone a step farther, with the nation's foreign minister
the state-run KCNA news agency, "Since the United States is about to ignite a nuclear war, we will be exercising our right to preemptive nuclear attack against the headquarters of the aggressor in order to protect our supreme interest."
It is unclear whether the North was referring to the capital city of South Korea, Seoul, or to the U.S. capital, Washington D.C. North Korea labels the South a breakaway state and "puppet" regime of the U.S. It never formally made peace with the U.S. and South Korea following the Korean War of 1950-1953. But until this week a protective armistice remained in place.
North Korea has made some progress on its
nuclear weapons program
. In December, North Korea tested an intercontinental ballistic missile, which it used to launch a satellite into space. It is thought to have designed the rocket with the help of Iran, another state hostile the U.S. who is reportedly pursuing a covert nuclear weapons program.
reports that Iranian observers were on hand at the test.
North Korea's military, seen here in a training exercise, claims it has decided to nuke the U.S. or its allies in a "preemptive strike". [Image Source: KCNA]
The U.S. quickly moved before the UN to place sanctions on the North after that test. China, which typically is supportive of North Korea, a major trade partner, agreed to some sanctions. In response to those sanctions, North Korea defiantly
conducted its third major nuclear test
on Feb. 12.
According to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, February's nuclear test measured "approximately several kilotons" while the first North Korean nuclear test in 2006 was under 1 kiloton and the second in 2009 was about 2-7 kilotons. Those bombs would likely be capable of causing significant damage if they reached a populated area, but are smaller than the 16- and 21-kiloton explosives that the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (respectively) at the close of WWII.
Since WWII, there has been no nuclear act of war.
Experts expressed doubt that North Korea would be able to successfully use its newly acquired intercontinental ballistic missile technology to hurl a small warhead around the globe at the U.S. capital, approximately 6,890 miles away.
II. China Finally Backs Tough Sanctions Against North Korea's Ruling Elite
In the wake of the recent nuclear test the U.S. urged China to agree to tougher sanctions. China, whose state media has lashed out at North Korea's seemingly psychotic behavior in recent months, eventually agreed.
The latest sanctions hit close to home for North Korea's dictator and other members of the nation's military ruling elite. Under the new sanctions China and others who trade with North Korea can no longer define what constitutes a luxury item; many items such as yachts, racing cars, luxury automobiles, and certain types of jewelry are now explicitly banned. That means that the lavish lifestyle long enjoyed by the ruling elite while their people starved could be coming to an end.
North Korea also promises a traditional attack on its southern neighbor. [Image Source: KCNA]
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice comments, "These sanctions will bite and bite hard."
And China's U.N. Ambassador Li Baodong concurs, saying his nation wants to see "full implementation" of the strict new punishments.
As ally China loses patience with North Korea and backs sanctions, the North's leaders inch their fingers toward the trigger button. [Image Source: CNN]
But like a child whose toy is taken away, North Korea appears to be on the verge of a violent and self-destructive outburst, despite China pleading with it to behave itself. North Korea claims that routine military exercises by South Korea and the U.S. military in recent weeks are part of a secret plan to fire nuclear missiles at its cities later this year.
As the KCNA comment alludes to, it's using that accusation as a justification for scrapping the long-standing armistice. Now the only thing up in the air is whether it will back its posturing with force.
III. President Obama, South Korea Tell North Korea Not to Try Anything Stupid
President Barack Obama said that if North Korea was to try to launch a nuke that the U.S. would employ its own nuclear weapons (the so-called "nuclear umbrella) and/or its missile defense program to respond. South Korea and Japan, the U.S.'s closest allies in the region are mobilizing their strike capability in anticipation for a potential attack from North Korea.
President Obama threatened to retaliate against North Korea should it attack.
[Image Source: Matt Ortega/Flickr]
With Chinese support of its unruly neighbor waning, perhaps North Korea's last and closest ally is Russia. Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin this week urged the U.S. to act carefully, commenting, "Let's keep our minds cool and keep focused on the need for the only possible rational course of action, and that is returning to six-party talks."
North Korea has a long history of belligerence and bellicose rhetoric with the South, but it's never resorted to full blown war, since the armistice. Despite the armistice in 2010 the North sunk a South Korean naval ship, killing 46 sailors and bombed and island killing another two South Korean soldiers.
But there are some signs that South Korean and U.S. leadership believe North Korea to be on the verge of actually backing up its threats this time around. Typically the South never responds to threats, but in a rare response the military warned the North that it would respond resoundingly to any attack, including with action to eliminate the leadership of the North.
The U.S. and South Korea are expected to continue their wargames in the region through April. If the North is to follow through with its threats of nuclear and/or traditional attacks on the U.S. and its allies, it's expected to come before the end of April.
IV. Rodman Says North Korean Dictator is Simply Misunderstood
If there was one moment of levity in the tension of the last few weeks it's been former NBA superstar champion Dennis Rodman's bizarre trip to North Korea. Kim Jong-un oddly idolizes Mr. Rodman. And for his part Mr. Rodman called the dictator his "friend" after his recent visit to the hostile state.
Mr. Rodman has since gave several interviews:
In an interview with ABC News Mr. Rodman -- wearing a suit decorated in graphics of hundred dollar bills -- is asked if he was aware of North Korea's threat to "destroy" the U.S. and the fact that the nation imprisons nearly 200,000 of its own people in political prison camps. Rodman responds, "I don't condone that.... I hate that he's doing that."
But he still insists that Kim Jong-un was a "good leader" in a way, "a great guy", "very humble", and that he considered the leader "a friend". Rodman accuses the U.S.'s high incarceration rate as being similar to North Korea's prison camps.
He also delivers a (supposed) message from Kim Jong-un to President Obama, stating, "He wants Obama to do one thing, call him... He said, ‘If you can, Dennis – I don’t want [to] do war. I don’t want to do war.’"
Mr. Rodman tells Americans (and the interviewer George Stephanopoulos), "Don't hate me. Don't hate me."
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