Now that North Korea is no longer interfering with the release of a Hollywood comedy, Pyongyang’s capers have dropped low in the news — eclipsed by Islamist shootings in Europe, ISIS beheadings and the immolation of a Jordanian pilot, Russian-sponsored carnage in Ukraine and the U.S. administration’s desperate quest for an Iran nuclear deal.
But North Korea has not gone away. The totalitarians of Pyongyang are busy testing more missiles, committing their regime-sustaining human rights atrocities, and issuing more threats to launch nuclear strikes on the U.S. — including, in case you missed it, the threat released by the state-run Korean Central News Agency on Feb. 4, under the headline “U.S. Imperialists Will Face Final Doom.”
This threat was spelled out in a paragraph devoted to assorted specifics of North Korea’s arsenal, including, along with cyber warfare, North Korea’s claim to have miniaturized nuclear warheads, which would allow for delivery with ballistic missiles. The language is a bit convoluted, but that is what they are talking about (boldface is mine):
The United States had better clearly know that the smaller, precision and diversified nuclear striking means and ground, naval, underwater, air and cyberwarfare means of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea will be used by the service personnel and through the people’s display of the strongest mental power and indomitable ideology and will, which the gangster-like United States imperialists can never think of, and by the Juche-oriented strategy and tactics and unique war methods unprecedented in human wars.
This would be comic, in a sort of ghastly propaganda-speak way, except that while the U.S. administration is practicing “strategic patience” and reducing the U.S. nuclear arsenal, North Korea is working on nuclear weapons and delivery systems.
In theory, North Korea is supposed to be deterred from this by multiple layers of United Nations sanctions. That makes it all the more interesting that North Korea did not simply issue its recent threat via a state propaganda organ and leave it at that. North Korea took its threat to the UN, loading the same language wholesale into a letter to the president of the UN Security Council from North Korea’s UN ambassador Ja Song Nam, who submitted this letter to be circulated “as a document of the Security Council.”
In other words, North Korea, while under UN sanctions, has just used this letter, within the UN system, to threaten the U.S. with nuclear annihilation. This follows threats issued by North Korea at the UN last March and November, to conduct a fourth nuclear test — never mind UN sanctions on North Korea’s nuclear program.
Why would North Korea, in flagrant defiance of UN sanctions, dare bring such threats to the UN?
One likelihood is that North Korea is seeking, in its own perverse way, to achieve de facto international legitimacy for its nuclear weapons program, by trotting it out on the UN stage — via these threats. North Korea wants to be recognized by the U.S. as a nuclear power, which the U.S. refuses to do. So North Korea is pressing the issue, by threatening a nuclear attack on America.
That might sound ridiculous. But North Korea is also testing the limits of what it can get away with, and for Pyongyang that has so far been working out pretty well. North Korea has so far encountered no penalty for these threats. They simply enter the record. At a UN Security Council debate last December on North Korea’s monstrous human rights abuses, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power noted, accurately, that “The DPRK is already shockingly cavalier about dishing out threats of staging nuclear attacks, and has routinely flouted the prohibitions on proliferation imposed by the Security Council.”
Yes, and so what? What action did the Security Council take? Basically, it did nothing. The Council decided to maybe talk some more about North Korea’s human rights record at some later date, and on North Korea’s continuing nuclear threats and sanctions violations, it appears to be patiently waiting, perhaps for something more exciting. Certainly it did nothing to deter North Korea from producing its Feb. 4 letter, presenting the Security Council directly with North Korea’s threat to launch nuclear strikes on America. Nor has the UN, or the U.S. for that matter, done anything likely to stop the next threat.
The cavalier response to this might be that North Korea, for all its nuclear endeavors, does not have the ability to annihilate America. That’s not much comfort. Neither did the Sept. 11, 2001 al Qaeda hijackers pose an existential threat to the entire U.S., but even without nuclear weapons they wreaked horrific damage. North Korea is building weapons of mass murder, has a record of weapons trafficking that has already extended to nuclear proliferation to Syria (the clandestine Al Kibar reactor built in Syria with North Korean help and destroyed by an Israeli air strike in 2007), is adept at nuclear extortion, and consorts with a network of rogue states and terrorists who would be all too likely to dance and hand out candy should any one of them succeed in landing a devastating strike on the United States.
There is also this: In an increasingly dangerous 21st century, North Korea is pioneering the precedent that a nation, while pursuing a rogue nuclear program, can threaten to launch a nuclear attack on the U.S. — it can even present this threat to the UN Security Council — and get away with it. In America, this may not be getting a lot of attention. But in places hostile to the U.S., who else is watching this intriguing development? What comes next?