The latest round of saber-rattling from North Korea featured dictator Kim Jong Un ordering his country’s nuclear weapons to be readied for a “pre-emptive attack.”
Tensions are running high on the Korean peninsula after the North’s illegal tests of a new nuclear warhead, which they claim was a hydrogen bomb, and ballistic missile technology disguised as a “satellite launch.” South Korea has responded with stronger words and deeds than usual, while the U.N. Security Council imposed the toughest sanctions in two decades against North Korea on Wednesday.
Pyongyang pushed back by firing a salvo of either rockets or short-range missiles into the sea, and firing a salvo of colorful new insults at South Korea’s female president, Park Geun-hye.
A new report from the official North Korean news agency showed Kim Jong Un watching drills on a new multiple-rocket launcher, which might be the same weapon that was fired into the ocean this week, and issuing ominous threats of nuclear confrontation.
He spoke of the need for North Korea to “bolster up nuclear forces both in quality and quantity,” and “get the nuclear warheads deployed for national defense always on standby so as to be fired any moment,” according to Reuters’ transcription of his remarks.
“Now is the time for us to convert our mode of military counteraction toward the enemies into an preemptive attack one in every aspect,” said Kim.
While North Korea is unquestionably determined to develop long-range nuclear strike capabilities, ABC News notes there is some debate among Western intelligence agencies about whether the secretive Communist regime has any launch-capable nuclear weapons at the moment.
It is thought Pyongyang has enough weapons-grade plutonium for at least half a dozen nuclear warheads, and possibly as many as 16, but it is not clear if they have any nuclear-armed missiles ready to fire.
While a Defense Intelligence Agency estimate from April 2013 declared “moderate confidence the North currently has nuclear weapons capable of delivery by ballistic missiles,” the DIA admitted the reliability of its intelligence was “low,” and both the Pentagon and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper later questioned whether North Korea has demonstrated the capability to put a nuclear missile in the air.
“The threat here is, to me right now, it’s a lot of bluster,” Philip Yun of the nuclear-disarmament group Ploughshares Fund told CNN. “For them to deliver on a threat, they have to have intent and they have to have capability. And quite frankly, I don’t think they have both.”
Yun thought Kim’s nuclear saber-rattling might be meant for internal consumption in North Korea, to “brandish his credentials” for “protecting the motherland.”
“They know that if they did a pre-emptive attack or used nuclear weapons, they would cease to exist,” said Yun, which leads to the difficult question of just how sane the North Korean government is, both in the person of Kim Jong Un and collectively, as an institution.