The increasingly bellicose stream of rhetoric that has been flowing out of Pyongyang in recent weeks has even the most hard-boiled Department of Defense officials clutching their Blackberries uneasily. Last week, the general staff of the North Korean People’s Army declared, "The moment of explosion is approaching fast."
In response, the Pentagon has made two separate announcements of plans to beef up U.S. missile defense capabilities, first on the Pacific coast and more recently in Guam. In addition to serving as what the Pentagon calls "a precautionary move," these actions are meant to deter North Korea from considering a nuclear attack on the United States.
The Pentagon is unnecessarily playing into Kim Jong-Un’s hands with this type of reactive policy. Most experts agree that Kim Jong-Un’s claims of a "cutting-edge smaller, lighter and diversified" nuclear arsenal are more bark than bite. It's unlikely that North Korea has a missile powerful enough to deliver a nuclear warhead 6,000 miles, or the approximate distance from Pyongyang to Los Angeles, which is the most likely target on the U.S. Pacific coast. In fact, reports show that the missile that North Korea transported to its own coast on Thursday doesn’t even have enough power to reach Guam, less than 2,200 miles away.
Yet South Korea has yet to receive additional anti-missile protection from the U.S. despite the fact that Seoul, home to over 10.5 million people, is just 35 miles from the DMZ. There are more than 28,500 American troops currently stationed in South Korea exposed to attack, compared to approximately 5,600 in Guam. Moreover, though the chances of a full-scale war between the U.S. and North Korea are unlikely, the odds of a conflict breaking out on the Korean peninsula are much higher. "Given the nature of the North Korean regime, it’s possible that they will launch a localized provocation," said South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin.
More importantly, by letting Kim Jong-Un know that his scare tactics are working, the Pentagon’s visible antsiness only encourages further belligerence. Kim Jong-Un's sabre-rattling is part of a clichéd ritual: the young, untested leader attempts to prove his cojones to his senior military officials. From the ridiculous staged photos to the overblown propaganda, it’s all part of the show, and the U.S. is playing its role more magnificently than Kim could have hoped. After the Department of Defense poured $1 billion into an unreliable Alaska-based missile defense system, Kim Jong-Un was on his feet and applauding. Now that it has decided to expedite its missile protection plan in Guam by two years, how could the Great Successor possibly resist calling for an encore?