War of words
North Korea has declared it is in “a state of war” with its prosperous, democratic neighbor, South Korea, and it has threatened to close down a factory complex the two nations have been managing on a cooperative basis.
And, in recent weeks, North Korea has engaged in a pattern of strident rhetoric replete with vows to launch missiles aimed at those nations it considers its enemies, including the United States. It has been taunting Americans with video depictions of Washington in flames, presumably from a North Korean missile attack.
The war declaration mentions “the death-defying battle with the enemies” that promises to “achieve a final victory of the great war for national reunification true to the important decision made by Kim Jong Un,” the relatively new North Korean leader.
Because Kim is so young and so new to the world’s stage, it is difficult to measure the seriousness of these threats. There is no way to know, with certainty, whether he’s bluffing, if he’s a fool, a tool of his generals, or a genuine, mature menace.
Political and military analysts in South Korea, China (North Korea’s closest friend, but a wary ally at best) and the United States must all be scratching their heads as they try to develop a strategy for dealing with Kim.
From a distance, Kim may appear immature at best and unbalanced at worst, but such assessments are little more than guesswork, and a miscalculation could bring serious consequences. However, the greater danger of a miscalculation would appear to be to North Korea because if it were to launch any attack, that would surely invite retaliation from its much more powerful foes, including the United States.
A worrisome fact is that nobody knows much about Kim except that clearly he has a flair for the dramatic (and is propped up by a busy but rather transparent propaganda machine that portrays him in heroic fashion). Also, he leads a nation that often appears to take pride in being aggressively contrarian in many ways.
And then there’s this reality: Technically, North Korea and South Korea have been in a constant state of war since the Korean conflict back in the 1950s, a fact that would somewhat seem to render the new “declaration of war” virtually meaningless.
Also, there are few signs that North Korea is actually planning to fight. For example, there have been no reports that it has massed troops along the border with South Korea. However, the threat to shut down the shared factory complex is worrisome, because its continued operation had been taken as a good reason to believe that all the other war talk was just so much chest thumping to impress Kim’s subjects.
The 8-year-old complex, with 123 South Korean factories, is a vital source of cash for North Korea because it generates more than $92 million a year in wages (based on a meager average monthly wage of $144) for the 53,400 North Koreans who have jobs there.
When South Koreans cited those statistics, North Korea angrily responded with its customary bellicose propaganda.
“The South Korean puppet forces are left with no face to make complaint even though we ban the South side’s personnel’s entry into the zone and close it,” North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency declared Saturday. It also complained that North Korea’s dignity was insulted by South Korean media reports suggesting the North was keeping the complex open only to obtain hard currency.
We must all hope this remains a propaganda war and nothing more.