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  (Source: Reuters)
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 in shambles, 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 telling 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.  Reuters reports that Iranian observers were on hand at the test.

North Korea's military
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 soldiers
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.

North Korea
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.

Obama upset
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."

Source: North Korea

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RE: Nothing they haven't said before
By BifurcatedBoat on 3/7/2013 5:53:55 PM , Rating: 4
The drawn-out nature of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars may have seemed to undermine the perception of the US military being able to get things done quickly, but you have to remember that in no recent conflict have organized forces been able to stand up to US military power for more than a few weeks.

It's playing world police force in a hostile environment that has been difficult for the US military - a role that it was never really suited for.

I don't think that a war with North Korea would be very long at all. In the opening days of such a conflict, it's possible that NK could use WMDs to deliver substantial damage to South Korea, or maybe even the US if they could manage to send a nuclear missile over here and get lucky with where it lands.

Beyond that though, the US would quickly win the air-superiority battle, and it would be all downhill from there. At that point, from the NK perspective, you'd have to spread out and intermingle with the civilian population, hoping that the other side cares about collateral damage - as has been the case in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The combat phase of the war is effectively over at that point, and I don't see any reason why it would take especially long to get there. NK is not a very big country.

RE: Nothing they haven't said before
By jimbojimbo on 3/7/13, Rating: -1
RE: Nothing they haven't said before
By random2 on 3/7/2013 11:59:30 PM , Rating: 2
Not to mention that in spite of their public world stance on North Korea, and because North Korea has always been the slightly mentally deficient but loved child, the Chinese will be running supplies to the N. Korean guerrillas and regular army. Everyone knows a well funded and supplied force that cannot be seen or rooted from the indigenous population will bleed the U.S. dry, economically and spiritually at home and abroad.

Can the U.S. afford another trillion dollar war? Is the american middle class, (or at least what is left of it) prepared to foot the bill again? Not likely. You think there has been a severe redistribution of wealth away from the working poor, and the middle class in America....just wait. Sooner or later the people will start catching on.

Then there is the inherent problems of a nuclear strike against an obviously technologically frail foe. It won't win the U.S. any sympathy in the worlds eyes, and it will certainly provide the Chinese with a cause they may feel obligated to pick up.

RE: Nothing they haven't said before
By mcnabney on 3/8/2013 9:55:19 AM , Rating: 5
If it happens it won't be a trillion dollar war.

The South Koreans would bear the brunt of the land forces with the US being predominantly air power with perhaps selective landing/raids against special targets (nuclear, chemical, biological, leadership) in the North.

Will we lose some planes and soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen die? Without a doubt. The high cost is in setting up a 150k person occupation. If NK is occupied after the war it will be by South Koreans (or possibly Chinese). Our role in such a conflict is to kick ass and take names.

Now, if China escalates it will become WW3 - so it still won't be a trillion dollar war. It will be a hundred million dead people. All those nukes are paid for.

RE: Nothing they haven't said before
By RufusM on 3/8/2013 12:35:30 PM , Rating: 2
It seems like China is realizing North Korea is a lost cause. I doubt China would come to North Korea's aid if they attacked South Korea or launched a nuke.

In the case North Korea launches a nuke, hopefully there are enough intercept missiles over there to destroy it before it leaves North Korean airspace.

By delphinus100 on 3/8/2013 9:28:45 PM , Rating: 2
I doubt China would come to North Korea's aid if they attacked South Korea or launched a nuke.

Their strongest fear seems to be the prospect of umpteen numbers of NK refugees crossing the Chinese border in the event of any major hostilities, but all the more if anyone splits or fuses some atoms...

RE: Nothing they haven't said before
By Helbore on 3/8/2013 3:56:31 PM , Rating: 2
I actually think there's more chance of China attacking and occupying NK themselves, then China attacking America if war broke out.

China has learned that its an economical powerhouse. They're doing better selling Americans cheap shit than they would ever do by killing them.

China supports NK out of dated international politics. But if NK became a thorn in China's side - which is exactly what they'd be if they started an all-out war - then China would squash them like a bug.

By pixelslave on 3/8/2013 6:41:38 PM , Rating: 3
According to some state sponsored newspaper I read yesterday, the Chinese are actually afraid that when NK eventually obtains Nuclear missiles, they will not only ask for money by threatening US, but also China -- after all, it's much closer to send a nuke to Beijing, than to send it to D.C.

RE: Nothing they haven't said before
By theapparition on 3/8/2013 10:28:21 AM , Rating: 4
It wouldn't be a long war at all if you turn the entire area into glass.

Even a conventional war would be quick. A million soldiers don't matter if they all surrender quickly when the chain of command falls.

Now, if you want to try to establish a police state and help rebuild while you fund a new government, then that's where the casualties and drawn out campaign starts. Get in, kill this regime, and get out. Let the country naturally evolve from there. If the new government threatens you, then rinse and repeat.

RE: Nothing they haven't said before
By Guspaz on 3/8/2013 12:44:28 PM , Rating: 3
People keep comparing it to Iraq and Afghanistan, but there's one key difference here: South Korea. In both the case of Iraq and Afghanistan, the active war phase was very short, it was the protracted occupation that consumed most of the cost and caused most of the casualties.

In the case of North Korea, it would not be the US providing the occupation force, it would be the South Koreans. They are the same language and cultural history as the North, and who knows what impact exposing the population of the North to the truth of reality (they're kept in the dark about just how destitute and backwards they are compared to South Korea) will have. All this to say that the situation is radically different from that which presented itself in Afghanistan and Iraq. I'm not sure how a unified Korea under the south would work out; I tend to think it would either go extremely well, or extremely poorly. In either case, however, the US involvement outside of the initial war will be relatively minor. Not non-existent, mind you, but South Korea is a wealthy nation capable of handling a good deal of the post-war situation itself.

RE: Nothing they haven't said before
By fredgiblet on 3/10/2013 5:37:56 PM , Rating: 3
They wouldn't be wealthy for long. Rebuilding East Germany took a ton of money, East Germany was in far better shape than North Korea is.

By Pavelyoung on 3/23/2013 9:02:53 PM , Rating: 2
So are we not supposed to help South Korea because its going to be expensive to bring NKorea up to a standard of living that will allow them to feed themselves?

By Phoque on 3/9/2013 12:18:50 AM , Rating: 2
It's playing world police force in a hostile environment that has been difficult for the US military - a role that it was never really suited for.

Until a given army can send in remotely controlled robots which can sustain being sprayed with bullets, grenade explosions and dodge incoming rockets, playing world police in a place such as Irak won't be a role suited for any armed forces, however prepared they are. It's just too chaotic.

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