Which means … what, exactly? We’ve always assumed that the Kim regime has a rational purpose, which is its self-perpetuation, unlike Iran, whose purposes fall into the realm of the non-rational (apocalyptic religious fervor), on which the Iranians act rationally. Rationally speaking, there is no way that North Korea can expect to win a war with the US. That assumption is why CBS and AP take great pains at the start of the article to argue that the Kim regime doesn’t mean what it says in its latest pronouncement:
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un warned Friday that his rocket forces were ready “to settle accounts with the U.S.,” unleashing a new round of bellicose rhetoric after U.S. nuclear-capable B-2 bombers dropped dummy munitions in joint military drills with South Korea.
Kim’s warning, and the litany of threats that have preceded it, don’t indicate an imminent war. In fact, they’re most likely meant to coerce South Korea into softening its policies, win direct talks and aid from Washington, and strengthen the young leader’s credentials and image at home.
Well, that’s only true if the Kim regime is acting rationally on rational goals. If they wanted softer policies in the South, though, they could have gotten that with some diplomatic outreach during the most recent election. If they want more aid from the US, they could have put off their long-range missile and nuclear tests. Everything they have done over the last three or four months has been irrational in respect to those goals, except for burnishing the leadership credentials of the latest hereditary dictator. And even in that case, analysts have begun to suspect that it’s the hardline military leadership that’s running Kim and not the other way around.
The DPRK is serious about the rockets, though:
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted military officials in the country as saying there had been “increased activity” at some of the North’s missile sites in recent days.
“North Korea’s launch sites to fire off mid- and long-range missiles have recently shown increased movement of vehicles and forces,” Yonhap quoted one anonymous official as saying. “We are closely watching possibilities of missile launches.”
And so is their state-run media:
Kim said “the time has come to settle accounts with the U.S. imperialists in view of the prevailing situation,” according to a report by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.
So, once again the question: is this regime rational? If so, then we should expect a climbdown soon, or perhaps a declare-victory-and-go-home PR moment to which Pyongyang can cling. However, the assumption of rationality may not hold for much longer, and the closer both sides get to the brink, the less influence that any rationality north of the 38th Parallel will have.