On Wednesday, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) declared itself party no longer to the 1953 armistice that halted the Korean War and established the Southeast Asian peninsula’s current uneasy peace.
The announcement comes on the heels of a long-range missile test, a nuclear detonation, and multiple short-range missile launches by the rogue state, none of which represented physical attacks on neighboring nations, but all of which were intended to be seen as threats by those who would dare pressure Pyongyang to walk back its aggressive policies and live within the bounds of international agreements.
North Korea’s latest ratcheting up of belligerent rhetoric and military posturing comes as a direct result of its southern neighbor, the Republic of Korea, announcing its decision to become a member of the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), a Bush-era program established for the purpose of coordinating a worldwide effort to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The 90-nation organization is the brainchild of John R. Bolton, the former U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security.
The highest-profile tool used by PSI-supporting nations to prevent proliferation is shipment interdiction, often conducted by boarding ships suspected of carrying WMD materials or forcing them into friendly port for inspection — a tactic that has been used against North Korean ships in the past and which in 2003 directly led to the unraveling of the largest nuclear black market ever discovered: that of Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan.
Pyongyang has long warned South Korea that a decision by the latter to join the PSI would be tantamount to an act of war. Not coincidentally, the DPRK responded to Seoul’s announcement by firing short-range rockets — one surface-to-ship, one surface-to-air — into the Sea of Japan (or the “Eastern Sea,” as the Koreans refer to it), a wordless warning that its past threats should not be forgotten. That action has, of course, been accompanied by heightened rhetoric aimed at reminding Seoul of the danger that exists mere miles to its north and of convincing leaders of the free Korea to walk back their steps to put pressure on the rogue regime.