How Seriously Should We Take North Korea's Latest Threat?

The Atlantic

Administration officials don't seem to be sweating North Korea's boldest, blustering statement that came out Friday evening announcing something about entering a "state of war" with South Korea. "Time when words could work has passed," North Korea's statement, distributed by the state-run Korean Central News Agency, said. "Time has come to stage a do-or-die final battle." North Korea will, "achieve a final victory of the great war for national reunification true to the important decision made by Kim Jong Un... They should clearly know that in the era of Marshal Kim Jong Un, the greatest-ever commander, all things are different from what they used to be in the past."

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Despite the strong promises of turning North America into a smouldering pile of dust, not very many people are worried Saturday morning. American officials seem to be taking the latest display from the North in stride. "Putting on a show is not the same as taking action," an administration official told The Washington Post. "Describing the situation as akin to war is not to be remotely confused with wanting a war, let alone going to war." It's not that officials aren't taking the threats, or Un, seriously, but this all seems like more chest-thumping than real promises of conflict. "We’re convinced this is about Kim solidifying his place with his own people and his own military, who still don’t know him," one senior official told The New York Times. "We’re worried about what he’s going to do next, but we’re not worried about what he seems to be threatening to do next."

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Pretty much everyone believes this is merely rhetoric from North Korea: an effort to either make Kim Jong-Un look strong at home, or to lure Western powers to the bargaining table to negotiate sanctions on the country. Many were quick to point out the two countries have technically been in a "state of war" since the 1953 armistice agreement, so nothing has really changed despite what North Korea wants you to believe. 

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The U.S. already reminded Un what would happen if he does step out of line, either on American or South Korean soil. The U.S. flew two nuclear-capable B-2 Spirit bombers over the Korean peninsula on Thursday as part of the military exercises with South Korea. The trip sent two separate, but equally important messages. First, to North Korea: this is what will happen if you trying anything. And second, to South Korea: we've got your back. The bombers were, "very much a message to South Korea that you don't need to get too excited; we're with you," a senior military officer told the L.A. Times.

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Remember: South Korean and American officials don't believe North Korea has the arms technology to deliver on its promises of sending a nuclear warhead to American shores. While an attack on South Korea is possible, and the administration is watching that carefully, everyone at home is relatively safe. The U.S. already moved a bunch of missile defense systems into place just in case something does happen. But, most importantly, the North's efforts to launch a long range missile could be described as calamitous, at best.

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