Beware a 30-year-old leader of a rogue communist state with a bad haircut and Scud missiles.
Comically Sasha Baron Cohen as he sounds, the latest outbreak of sabre rattling from North Korea’s Kim Jong-un has done the job.
The world is rattled by his brinkmanship.
The declaration by North Korea that it’s on a “war footing”, prepared to fire its missiles at US bases in its neighbourhood and even into the United States itself, may have foreign analysts and governments listening. But it has others incredulous at the audacity of the young and untested Kim Jong-un, whose dodgy coiffure has done nothing to stymie his predisposition for self-promotion.
Despite having inherited a poverty-stricken nation, his threats have become louder and in the past few days his determination to hold on to his purported nuclear arsenal, stronger.
As a result, no one knows if the latest threat that Pyongyang might strike against US bases near and far away is anything more than another hollow threat against its old enemy South Korea and Seoul’s ally, the United States, or perhaps – against all odds – real.
(Meanwhile, international news outfits scoff that North Korea is using bad photoshop images to boost its military might. Note in the shot below, the identical shadows on the hovercraft- supposedly ready to attack on an unnamed beach? Image via The Guardian.)
According to North Korean television, the country’s generals are on standby with their fingers poised to press the “strike” button on the young leader’s order. That – according to the North Korean propaganda – would send its missiles firing into US bases in South Korea, Hawaii, Guam and Japan.
And though this might be boasting at its best, North Korea has warned that its long-range capabilities may be greater than the US thinks. North Korean newspapers are carrying vaguely coded messages that Kim may be thinking of sending missiles all the way across the US – from California to South Carolina.
“If the US and the South Korean puppet group perpetrate a military provocation, it will not be limited to a local war but develop into an all out war, a nuclear war,” said a government official, with a similarly bad haircut to his leader, on state TV.
That’s a development the US is taking seriously.
‘We remain fully prepared and capable of defending and protecting the United States and our allies,” said Caitlin Hayden, the White House National Security spokesperson.
No word from Washington on what responsibility it accepts for North Korea’s move. For months both sides have mounted military drills in a dangerous display of tit-for-tat showing off.
The latest outbreak of war mongering began when the US flew two stealth bombers from the US to the Korean Peninsula. Then they turned around and flew all the way back to the US. It was a very unsubtle message from Washington to Pyongyang, that if it needs to, the US can and will conduct a precision strike.
It was Washington telling the young North Korean leader, “We can! Can you?”
What makes this latest threat so serious is the “who knows” factor.
Pyongyang’s Soviet-era Scud missiles would easily hit South Korea, but the capacity of its longer-range missiles is unknown.
South Korea for its part, has been fairly sanguine…until now.
President Park Geun-Hye has warned that she is taking the daily threats from the North “very seriously”. “I believe that we should make a strong and immediate retaliation without any other political considerations if (the North) stages any provocation against our people,” she said.
North Korea refuses to name the South’s first female leader by name, instead speaking of the “sinister swish of skirts”.
South Korea has essentially been at war with its northern neighbour since the 1950-1953 Korean War ended. When its communist cousins invaded, South Korea fought back with a little help from the US. But the war ended in a stalemate. No peace treaty was signed. Instead an armistice came into effect with a demilitarised zone between the two nations.
Since then it’s been a playground for muscle flexing and geo-political war-games.US President Barack Obama views North Korea from across the demilitarised zone. Image via The Daily Mail.
Pyongyang decided earlier this year to revoke the cease-fire agreement putting both nations, officially, at war.
Still, most analysts believe Kim’s threats are little more than an attempt to get Washington to re-think the now crippling sanctions it imposed against Pyongyang after its last nuclear test. Washington has always believed sanctions would convince Kim to give up his nuclear ambitions.
But Kim is now telling Washington to think again.
He’s just announced a new strategy. And he’s made it clear that he is determined not only to rebuild the North Korean economy despite the sanctions. Provocatively, he’s also told the United States that he considers North Korea’s nuclear weapons arsenal its “nation’s life”.
Kim is not simply refusing to give it up. He’s vowed to expand the nuclear program.
Now that’s hitting the ball back into Washington’s court.
*In latest news via AAP this morning:
The United States has positioned a destroyer capable of shooting down missiles near North Korea, in the latest military move amid a showdown with the communist state.
The USS Fitzgerald, which had sailed to South Korea as part of recent exercises, has been sent off the southwestern coast of the Korean peninsula instead of returning to its home port in Japan, a US defence official said on Monday.
The official, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, said that the shifting of the USS Fitzgerald was “a prudent move” meant to offer “greater missile defence options should that become necessary”.
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*Monica Attard OAM is a five-time Walkley award-winning Australian journalist – including the Gold Walkley Award for Excellence in Journalism 1991. She was the host of the ABC’s PM, the World Today and Media Watch. She spent 28 years at the ABC, leaving to start up The Global Mail where she was, until recently, the Managing Editor. In 1997, Monica published a book entitled Russia: Which Way Paradise? documenting her time there as a foreign correspondent. You can follow her on Twitter: @attardmon.