North Korea’s Saber Rattling: Is the Bark Worse Than the Bite?

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KCNA / Xinhua / Sipa

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in a photo released by the country's state-run news agency KCNA on March 29, 2013

The world may finally be taking North Korean threats seriously. On March 28, after the U.S. announced that two nuclear-capable stealth bombers flew from Missouri to South Korea as part of a major military exercise — which TIME’s Mark Thompson called “unusual” and Foreign Policy estimated might have cost $5.5 million — news reports ran rampant that Kim Jong Un and his military were plotting for their missiles to hit military bases in South Korea and U.S.-owned ones in the Pacific Ocean.

Speculation about North Korea’s apparent boost in military movements continued early Friday morning, when a photo from the young despot’s war room was released, showing him seated at a large wooden table and flanked by four senior generals in traditional military attire, who are watching him read through the supposed plans. A chart behind him is apparently marked “U.S. Mainland Strike Plan” with missile trajectories that state-controlled media claim end in Hawaii; Los Angeles; Washington, D.C.; and Austin. An accompanying image appears to show him signing an order for the rockets to be on standby. A Foreign Ministry statement warned of North Korea’s “right to a preemptive nuclear attack to destroy the strongholds of the aggressors.”

“He finally signed the plan on technical preparations of strategic rockets, ordering them to be on standby to fire so that they may strike any time the U.S. mainland, its military bases in the operational theaters in the Pacific, including Hawaii and Guam, and those in South Korea,” reported the Korean Central News Agency, the secretive nation’s mouthpiece. Later in the day, tens of thousands of people converged in Pyongyang’s main square to support their leader, with some holding placards that read “Let’s Crush the Puppet Traitor Group” and “Let’s Rip the Puppet Traitors to Death!”

In response to the increased military movement, an American official was quoted as saying the isolated nation was “not a paper tiger” and that its “provocative behavior” should not be dismissed as “pure bluster.” The source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, continued: “What’s not clear right now is how much risk Kim Jong Un is willing to run to show the world and domestic elites that he’s a tough guy.” But even despite the latest harmful threats, the official offered this opinion on the young Kim: “His inexperience is certain — his wisdom is still very much in question.”

But many of North Korea’s threats have proved hollow and — more often than not — comical. For much of the past half century, its proverbial bark has been much worse than its bite. Over the past decade or so, Pyongyang’s taunts have been met with criticism, laughs, sanctions and silence.

In March 2001, it threatened “thousandfold revenge” on the U.S. for a “black-hearted intention” to scuttle its peace dialogue with the South. Eight years later in July 2009, after then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the North was like a child seeking attention from a parent, its leadership shot back with this one-liner: “Her words suggest that she is by no means intelligent.” (A Foreign Ministry statement went on to brand her a “funny lady” who looks like “a pensioner going shopping.”)

A year later, Pyongyang promised a “retaliatory sacred war” after being blamed for the sinking of a South Korean ship, which killed 46 sailors. In April 2012, the North claimed it would reduce Seoul “to ashes” as tensions between the two governments had escalated again. And during a debate in February at the U.N. Conference on Disarmament, a North Korean diplomat cajoled Seoul: “A newborn puppy knows no fear of a tiger. South Korea’s erratic behavior would only herald its final destruction.” That final pronouncement is one that Kim and his cohort might want to heed themselves.

87 comments
ElwinderSinghJasvirSingh
ElwinderSinghJasvirSingh

Surely this is just to get leverage at the negotiating table as a war with the US, NATO, and South Korea will be fatal for Kim's administration and his rule as leader, nevertheless you don't want to push a desperate man to the brink, as without many options to fall back on he may just risk nuclear warfare...the ball is firmly in the US's court lets see what kind of olive branch they offer North Korea this time to keep the peace

billthenewguy
billthenewguy

@TIME toward us and the rest of the world a resounding YES to his own people a resounding NO

azmalhome
azmalhome

hate just can make more hate, it's a easy matter to make quiet between Korea. but some foreigner leader don't want to do it. this is political mystery. http://azmalhome.wordpress.com/

Shawn Hill
Shawn Hill

Pray for North Korea, for that they do not know what they're doing!

Paloma Savaengcharoen
Paloma Savaengcharoen

It's an ACT! For how many years has his dad been threatning America?! It's not like this is new stuff we have not heard before...my gosh people, get a hold of yourselves 'cause it is just PROPAGANDA! He is a lost little pig...oink, oink!

Andy Pratt
Andy Pratt

It's sad when people get motivated to such extremes. :(

KabsKubs
KabsKubs

So he wants war with America.A bad call for a Paper Tiger,if that is what he is.This gentleman is a lost ball in the high wind,as far the west is concerned.Unless China is behind all of his bellicose  posturing then it would no longer be dismissed as an all hat,no cattle empty talk.Taking him seriously is probably the most prudent move this time.

Evarixta
Evarixta

@Lula711 @TIME Yo creo que sí. Quiere quitarse esa imagen de gordo blandito,después de todo lo publicado sobre él tras la muerte de su padre

Ronnie C Huddleston
Ronnie C Huddleston

all talk so what they have guns hell the hole world has the same thing they got and ten times over stupid stupid man.

Vinnie
Vinnie

I still prefer he talking for the rest of his life than taking any action.

tomkinney54
tomkinney54

Kim has just been shown proven delivery systems.  The US has played brinkmanship harder this time.  South Korea has changed the rules of engagement.  Kim's bite will be like the bite of a pittbull in the city.  It will cause damage, but it will be the end of Kim.

Alaskanbushman
Alaskanbushman

@TIME: Kim Jong Un, North Korean dictator, is not ready to leave this world, yet. It's time to re-unite the Koreas! So bring it on, Kim!

randaljbatty
randaljbatty

My uncle (who I never had the chance to meet) was a bomber pilot in N. Korea.  No word was heard from him once he and his crew set out for their mission.  Seemingly, he was shot down the same year I was born.  The N. Koreans have release some POW information regarding felled service men, but never anything about my uncle.  Even today, he remains MIA. 

Eisenhower didn't want to escalate the war once he saw that China had entered the war.  He was afraid of the A-bomb and shouldn't have been.  As we learned in Japan, the A-bomb can eliminate thousands of lives in a few seconds.  Despite all the negativity about using atomic bombs, our arsenal can change the balance of power in S.E. Asia and beyond.  This idea that the US has become morally superior to its enemies is poppycock.  In order to silence the squealing of piglets like 'lil Kim, it is our OBLIGATION to eliminate him and his kind from the world. 

The US cannot both be the protectorate of the world and the most deadly force on the planet.  You can't eliminate termites without calling in an exterminator.

bobbiebarnhill
bobbiebarnhill

@TIME He wants money. This is how his father manipulated GW, and GW placated him with our tax dollars.

JunkkMale
JunkkMale

@TIME Depends on the breed in analogy, and canine affliction suffered from. Even a rabid Pomeranian worthy of concern round ankles

bub_hub
bub_hub

@TIME Probably, but his wife is pretty hot. Lets go save her from him.

Michael Beckerman
Michael Beckerman

This foolish, young, inexperienced leader needs to decide if he wants to preside over a functioning, operational country or a smoldering pile of ash. He needs to choose he moves very carefully at this point.

Eddie J. Velosa
Eddie J. Velosa

Empty threat or not. I'm surprised we are tolerating it, really. It's not OK to entertain the thought of a nuclear war...period.

Ricardo Robles
Ricardo Robles

nice mac ! ...while the country is isolated.. he has the latest gadgets on the market... so much for socialism !

KeithPence
KeithPence

This goes out to the world,alsomeans the  so called U.S.  Instead of spending BILLIONS  and BILLIONS of DOLLORS  in making weapons os mass destruction why not use that money to help and feed the world to make it a better place to live.... Because the allians are coming and they are the ones we have to keep an eye on you retards..

Bazinga
Bazinga

I see he still has a severe case of "Little Man" syndrome....

Primetime_29
Primetime_29

This is a game of Chicken.  North Korea is not looking for a victory on the battlefeild, they are looking to make the world take a step back in dealing with them and to show them fear/respect.  By not playing their games their way makes Kim Jong Un look lose face and look weak.  The experts I think are right in saying the danger is not from the top, but from the jitery middle managment ordered to keep their fingers on the button just in case.

IRA
IRA

HE WILL STRIKE. THIS IS FOR REAL.

Lula711
Lula711

@Evarixta hombre con ese corte de pelo algo debia hacer para ganar credibilidad o "asustar" un poquito, aparte de cambiar de peluquero :-S

KabsKubs
KabsKubs

@randaljbatty The US is not the world's "protectorate".And using the analogy of termite extermination when you are talking about the lives of human beings is morally callous.Eisenhower was right.There is not enough justification for any Nation in the world to rightly use the nuclear bomb against another civilization.Let's take it from him.He was a good General.

welshdogbmore
welshdogbmore

@KeithPence No one who makes comments as freshman and naive as "why not use that money to feed the poor cuz the aliens (not allians, buddy)" isn't allowed to call anyone "retards" . Read some books , and i mean books with more words then pictures. lol

randaljbatty
randaljbatty

@welshdogbmore @KeithPence :  Allians (or preferably aliens) should be plural, thus"isn't pictured" is incorrect.  Before suggesting that someone else read "some books," I also recommend that Welsh do a review of basic English grammar. 

Lula711
Lula711

@Evarixta Jajajaja. Madre mia vaya documento. Aunque solo se permitan 10 cortes el suyo es un delito por si soli. Ha escogido el peor!!!