The threats from North Korea continue to escalate, as the official news agency has announced that “a state of war” exists between the two Koreas.
The North also threatened to shut down an industrial zone it operates jointly with the South near the heavily armed border between the two sides if Seoul continued to say the complex was being kept running for money.
The two Koreas have been technically in a state of war for six decades under a truce that ended their 1950-53 conflict. Despite its threats, few people see any indication Pyongyang will risk a near-certain defeat by re-starting full-scale war.
“From this time on, the North-South relations will be entering the state of war and all issues raised between the North and the South will be handled accordingly,” a statement carried by the North’s official KCNA news agency said.
KCNA said the statement was issued jointly by the North’s government, ruling party and other organizations.
There was no sign of unusual activity in the North’s military to suggest an imminent aggression, a South Korean defense ministry official said.
The North has been threatening to attack the South and U.S. military bases almost on a daily basis since the beginning of March, when U.S. and South Korean militaries started routine drills that have been conducted for decades without incident.
What’s going on? If we are to believe the analysts, Kim’s madness has method:
To North Korea experts in Washington and Seoul, there is something familiar in the country’s threats to ‘‘keep the White House in the cross hairs of our long-range missiles.’’ Such threat of armed brinkmanship — the catch phrase in the 1990s was that Seoul would become a ‘‘sea of fire,’’ a term recently revived by North Korea’s news agencies — has in the past drawn its adversaries to the bargaining table with economic concessions.
But at the same time, the tensions with the outside world provide the government with opportunities to elevate its leader’s status among his people — which may be more important to a young, untested leader than it was to his father and grandfather.
According to the view that North Korea’s propaganda machine pounds into its citizens’ minds, the North is a tiny nation besieged by hostile outside forces, one that survived despite decades of sanctions and can finally stand up to both its US foe and its longtime Chinese ally — all thanks to the strong ‘‘military-first’’ leadership of the Kim family and the country’s nuclear arsenal.
In such a setting, Kim’s trip to a border island on a wooden boat — it almost seemed designed to create a ‘‘Washington crossing the Delaware’’ motif — is proof of his ‘‘daring and pluck,’’ as the country’s main party newspaper Rodong explained.
The whole thing is reminiscent of The Mouse that Roared, the 1959 film classic starring a manic Peter Sellers playing three roles, which was about a tiny, fictitious European country, the Duchy of Fenwick, that declared war on the United States, hoping to lose so that the US would generously rebuild their country.
But by sheer coincidence and luck, Fenwick invades New York, gets control of a doomsday bomb, and wins the war. They force the rest of the world into peace talks and everyone lives happily ever after.
Kim Jong-Un must be a fan of this movie because his bloodcurdling threats may be designed to force the Six Party talks back on track. Kim desperately needs food and economic aid and these wild threats give a sense of urgency to getting back to the bargaining table.
Unless they have all lost their minds, North Korea is not likely to attack. They would be certain losers and the regime itself might not survive. They have less than 30 day supply of gas, no air force to speak of, and it is unlikely that China would intervene on their behalf as they did during the first Korean war.
The danger is from accidental war. With both sides poised for battle, and both militaries on a hair trigger, a false image on a radar scope, or a misinterpreted gesture on either side, could let slip the dogs of war.
The North can fire 500,000 artillery rounds into Seoul during the first hour of the war. Obviously, this must be prevented at all costs. But the big question is who is going to help Kim climb down from the ledge he has deliberately walked out on? And can he do it without losing face with the regime’s inner circle?
It will be a tense few days on the peninsula.