North Korea has a history of issuing violent, incoherent threats against many countries. From the foundations of the Kim dynasty with the eldest Kim Il-Sung to Kim Jung-Il to the current young ruler, Kim Jung-Un, the world has had a front-row seat to North Korea’s lambasting of the West coupled with its colorful shows of military strength, power, and national resolve and cohesion. But in spite of all of this and redundant threats, a key question arises: Just how big of a threat is North Korea?
We do not have to go back too far in North Korea’s history to ascertain a fair picture of their bellicose posture on the global stage. In order to better understand this question and learn how to adequately assess the potential of a North Korean military strike on the U.S., Guam, or South Korea, a quick look at the timeline of events will prove useful.
December 2011 – Kim Jung-Il dies and his son Kim Jung-Un rises to the country’s highest post.
April – August 2012 – Kim Jung-Un commences missile testing amid international pressure to cease, ignores diplomatic alternatives, and issues serious threats against the United States and South Korea.
March 2013 – North Korea issues first overtly preemptive nuclear threat against the United States.
April 2013 – North Korea promises to retaliate against any and all “provocations” from South Korea or the United States, while United States officials downplay the seriousness of these threats.
Historically speaking, when an outspoken individual or group makes threats, it wants something in return for not carrying out the annihilation of which it is allegedly capable. From the hostage situation in which the captors will release the captives if the government pays $10,000,000 in unmarked bills, to the Munich massacre of 1972, when the group Black September captured Israeli athletes and demanded the release of 234 prisoners imprisoned in Israeli jails, the historical scenario has typically been, Group X makes a threat on Group Y, demanding Z.
However, the unique thing about the current situation in North Korea is that the country is making a host of bombastic threats while seemingly demanding nothing in return. It has only been in the last few weeks that North Korea has mentioned a military strike in response to provocations. This had led to some officials claiming these threats from the new leader are nothing more than a hollow show of newly attained power and a misguided attempt to secure his people, subsequently keeping them in further bondage and the region in further instability.
Given the history of threats and missile testing from North Korea in an effort to show its military strength, what is next? Is this simply an immature, young, untested ruler attempting to garner national and international attention? Or is this a legitimate series of threats from a country that has a sketchy past with the United States dating back to the 1950s?
Whether these threats are imminent or hollow, the United States and other stakeholders (the United Nations, China, South Korea, Guam) have been forced into a posture of alertness, in case North Korea actually follows through on a preemptive and inevitably suicidal attack against anyone. Therefore, beyond continuing to attempt a diplomatic solution with an unwilling party and simply waiting, the next question is, how prepare to react to either a nuclear and hostile country or a hollow irritant vying for attention?