Should the U.S. Take North Korea’s Nuclear Threats Seriously?

From Scientific American:

North Korea has been threatening its neighbor to the south as well as its U.S. ally with invasion and destruction for more than 60 years. Backed by China, the North made good on the first part of this promise in June 1950, sparking the Korean War. But for the most part the decades of hostile rhetoric since the 1953 armistice that ended the fighting have amounted to little more than minor skirmishes. It’s easy to dismiss North Korea’s latest round of pronunciations and posturing as more of the same, except for one important variation in the Kim Jung-un regime’s verbiage. This time around the threat is “thermonuclear” war, and it comes about two months after North Korea’s third nuclear test prompted the U.N. Security Council to pursue additional sanctions against the North.

Taken on its own, North Korea’s recent saber rattling is not much different from what the country has done in the past. The Kim regime earlier this week warned foreign embassies in its capital Pyongyang to consider evacuating by April 10 for their own safety. North Korea this week also withdrew all of its workers and suspended operations in the country’s Kaesong Industrial Zone, which it jointly administers with South Korea, something former leader Kim Jong-il (the late father of the current leader) did three times in 2009. Pyongyang likewise relocated intermediate-range ballistic missiles on mobile launchers—including a couple of untested BM-25 Musudan weapons theoretically capable of reaching Guam 3,500 kilometers away—to its Japan-facing east coast.

Kim Jong-un’s strange proclamations and behavior—including meeting with former basketball star Dennis Rodman—make it tempting to dismiss his regime as ineffectual and out of touch with reality. Yet U.S. officials have taken North Korea’s agitation seriously, …

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