WASHINGTON – An expert on North Korea predicts the isolated Hermit Kingdom could stage “some kind” of attack or bombing within a few days on the Korean Peninsula amid heightened rhetoric about nuclear war.
Sung-Yoon Lee said the recent bluster is “unusual for [North Korea's] standards.”
North Korean threats could include wiping out an inhabited South Korean island, and it is “not mere rhetoric,” Lee told the open source Langley Intelligence Group Network, or Lignet, in an exclusive interview.
Lee is the Kim Koo Korea Foundation professor in Korean Studies and an assistant professor at Tufts University’s Fletcher School.
Lee said that the bellicose rhetoric from North Korea could be boxing in North Korea’s 28-year-old leader, Kim Jong-un, and that if he doesn’t act, he could lose face.
Other analysts believe Kim is attempting to prove to a skeptical military leadership that he can be tougher than his father, Kim Jong-il.
Consequently, Lee believes that North Korea will spark a military incident within the next couple of days.
He doesn’t believe the sending of U.S. B-2s during a joint U.S.-South Korean military exercise was the source of the new threats.
On the contrary, he believes the B-2 flights may dampen the North’s enthusiasm for engaging in further military provocations.
Meanwhile, North Korea continues to raise the specter of nuclear war, but this time on the Korean Peninsula, according to a statement by the Korean Central News Agency, or KCNA. The KCNA is the official mouthpiece of the North Korean leadership.
North Korean officials have another outlook on the B-2s. They see them as a basis for staging “nuclear war exercises striking simulated in-depth targets of the DPRK,” the KCNA statement said.
The DPRK, or Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, is the formal name of North Korea. Over the past weekend, the U.S. dispatched F-22 stealth fighter jets to South Korea for military exercises that are to continue through the month.
The North Koreans pointed out that the U.S. deputy secretary of defense had flown to South Korea “to finally examine the preparations for a nuclear war against the DPRK and openly said that the U.S. military attaches top priority to the second Korean war, giving green light to a nuclear war.”
The North Koreans said the combined forces of South Korea and U.S. also want to target “the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK with the use of lethal striking means and methods of U.S. imperialist aggression forces and the south Korean puppet army.”
“All the developments clearly show that the U.S. and south Korean aggression moves to conquer the DPRK, the strategic vantage, are leading to an outbreak of a nuclear war,” the KCNA statement said.
“Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army Marshal Kim Jong-un at 0:30 Friday finally examined and ratified the plan for firepower strike of the KPA strategic rocket forces so that they may strike any time the U.S. mainland and its military bases in Hawaii, Guam and south Korea,” it said.
“It is the steadfast will of the DPRK to react to the U.S. nuclear blackmail with merciless nuclear attacks, and war of aggression with a total war of justice,” the KCNA statement added.
Lee believes the U.S. approach over the years to negotiations with North Korea has been based on wishful thinking.
He said that just because Kim has lived in Switzerland and received some of his education there doesn’t mean he will be more open to change and cooperation with the world. To the contrary, “exposure to European cosmopolitanism is not a cure for totalitarian tendencies,” Lee said.
To underscore this view, Lee pointed to Cambodian dictator Pol Pot, who had spent four years in Paris during his 20s, but committed one of history’s greatest genocides against his own people.
He also referred to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who studied medicine in England, but “this has not stopped him from killing tens of thousands of his countrymen.”
Lee said that critical sanctions never should have been lifted during the administration of President George W. Bush, and North Korea should not have been removed from the U.S. state sponsors terror list.
He said while the U.S. needs to take North Korea seriously, Pyongyang actually has had the advantage, believing it has “tamed” not only the U.S., Japan and South Korea but some of its closest friends, Russia and China.
In pointing to North Korea’s vulnerabilities, Kim said the U.S. must exploit them by clamping down on its sources of revenue from illegal activities, including counterfeiting, drug trafficking and selling missile technology, and restoring sanctions suspended by the Bush administration.
Other sources have talked about an economic blockade on North Korea, but China has stated it would not support such an effort.
Lee sees some kind of North Korean attack over the next several days that may be limited in scope to back up its high-pitched rhetoric, believing the U.S. and South Korea will return to the bargaining table in the next few months with more “rewards.”