North Korea – Cold War or Hot Air?

by Natalie Wong

With a new leader in power, North Korea’s recent war posturing is subject to interpretation. On one hand, the country has a history of making hollow threats to the U.S., South Korea, and Japan, and so these recent developments could just be a typical tantrum from this desperate child, seeking love, fear, and attention from the world. On the other hand, a number of factors indicate that these threats are more serious than before. Is North Korea really getting ready for an attack, or are they just trying to intimidate us as usual? Whichever it is, the effect these threats have on the public is diminishing rapidly. South Koreans even chose to wave them off as casual nagging, noting their annoyance more than anxiety. It seems like North Korea should either step up their game or shut up, give up, and go home.

Although not unprecedented, some of the actions North Korea has taken recently have rung more fiercely than in the past. In February, seismic activity originating from North Korea led officials to speculate that they had performed its third nuclear test. As a response, the U.S. pushed for the U.N. to impose tougher economic sanctions against North Korean financial institutions (lolwut). Kim Jong Un retaliated with more fierce demonstrations of his intentions throughout March and April. He announced the re-opening of the dormant Yongbyon plutonium enrichment facility, nullified the 1953 Armistice that stopped the Korean War, and threatened violence against the U.S. and allies if the sanctions were not lightened. Specifically, on April 22nd, North Korea warned foreigners to evacuate Seoul as they readied themselves for a full attack that would apparently happen the week after.

Of course, with historical perspective, these tactics lose their bite. The Yongbyon reactor has been re-opened and shut down three times since the year 2007. Since 1994, North Korea has nullified the 1953 Armistice six times (having presumably reinstated it 5 times). And as for the threat of action against Seoul, as the week came and went, not even a chirp was heard from across the 38th parallel, let alone artillery or missile launches.

It might be true that North Korea and South Korea may have to go into battle at some point, but it is highly unnecessary for the North to report their every move to the public. For such a private and closed off society, they’re sharing an unusual amount of information. What exactly are they planning on doing with these threats?

On balance, it does seem like their threats are just big talk, and no absolute plan is really established within the nation. These warnings have been going on for a decade, the border between North and South Korea has not budged an inch. Seriously? The truth is, according to Time magazine, North Korea has “everything to lose” and nothing to gain for declaring war. Surrounded by more powerful nations and overpowered by larger numbers, North Korea would inevitably have to stand alone in the battle. With the world against them and almost no allies, North Korea just seems like the yappy, annoying, insecure chihuahua that everybody wishes China would stop bringing to UN meetings in its purse.

Furthermore, for North Korea’s new leader Kim Jong Un, who seemingly just inherited the position with no experience or prior knowledge whatsoever, leading the nation into war at this point will just be an enormous laughing stock. Additionally, with citizens who are unwillingly forced into patriotism and loyalty, it is possible that they could turn against their ruler once havoc breaks loose. With these inherent issues within the country itself, there is a high chance that North Korea, itself, would submerge into a “sea of fire and rubble” before they do any damage to anyone else.

But could it be that North Korea is just using this obviously “useless” tactic as an attack strategy? Are they just warning us again and again in order to catch us off guard when they actually intend to attack? Just last month, North Korea was allegedly responsible for an apparent cyberattack that compromised thousands of broadcasting and bank computers and servers in South Korea. Although not a direct, fatal attack, investigations state that it was an apparent spying attempt designed to phish out confidential and highly valuable information regarding the financial workings of South Korea. Although not a full-on, Cold-War style movement, there really is some sort of movement or intention of attack somewhere down the road. This sly, furtive movement caught enough attention from South Korea, and caused enough anxiety to run across the globe. Many in the Pentagon predict that North Korea will continue to develop it’s cyber warfare capabilities in the future to offset the weaknesses of its aging conventional military.

No one knows if North Korea is serious about an eventual battle or not. As the Time magazine puts it, it seems like the farther away we get from the Korean peninsula, the more paranoid people are. Is there a way to calm this nation down? Could there ever be peace and harmony between the North and South? These answers may not come for a few more blue moons, but one thing is for sure; if North Korea is ready for an attack, everyone else is even more ready to fight back.


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