North Korean army: We have final approval to launch nuclear strikes on the U.S.

I blame Dennis Rodman.

Suicide by (global) cop?

In a statement published by the official KCNA news agency, the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) said it was formally informing Washington that reckless US threats would be “smashed by… cutting-edge smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear strike means”.

“The merciless operation of (our) revolutionary armed forces in this regard has been finally examined and ratified,” the statement said…

“The moment of explosion is approaching fast,” Thursday’s statement said, adding that a war could break out on the Korean peninsula “today or tomorrow”.

“In view of this situation, the KPA General Staff in charge of all operations will take powerful practical military counteractions in succession,” it said.

Under normal circumstances this is gag material for “Team America 2” but Ed’s right about the significance of the North kicking South Koreans out of the Kaesong industrial complex. That shows greater seriousness of purpose than usual. Question: Is there any way to deter them short of cataclysmic war? The Pentagon’s sending missile defenses to Guam to show Kim that his chance of hitting U.S. territory is even lower than he thinks, but that’s not really deterrence. If Kim fires something off, it’ll be in the course of fully committing to war with South Korea. He’ll have nothing to lose at that point by taking an extra potshot at America. Typically I’d assume that the way to rein in North Korea is to put pressure on China, but Chinese pressure on NK and Kim’s resulting insecurity probably contributed to the recent escalation. China won’t double down for fear of what Kim might do next. And if Japan and South Korea try to make them double down by declaring that they’ll go nuclear, that might spook Kim into an invasion of the South that he otherwise wouldn’t undertake.

At a minimum, you’d think that the saber-rattling of the last few weeks would put an end to negotiations with NK once and for all, but that could have the same “nothing left to lose” effect on the North Korean leadership’s war plans as regional proliferation would. What now except paying the danegeld again once they ask for it? Is there any sort of preemptive attack (short of a comprehensive nuclear one, which would never happen) that might take out North Korean artillery, at least, before it can do major damage to Seoul? I’m guessing no, and even if there was that wouldn’t stop a North Korean invasion of the South. What’s the game plan now, coach?

Update: Another X factor: What if Kim’s lost control of the military?

There have been defections of small units of North Korean soldiers to China – soldiers who were subsequently turned around and sent back to North Korea, says retired Brig. Gen. Russell Howard, former commander of the 1st Special Forces Group, which has an Asia Focus.

This may seem like a positive development, but it is a problem because it means that Kim may feel the need to reassert his control over the military, by beating the war drum and trying to get his troops to rally around it. The more he needs their support, the harder he might beat the drum.

That assumes that this is all for show. If Kim himself or his handlers fear that the military’s at risk of falling apart, whether through defections, deterioriating materiel, or for other reasons, then they may conclude that they have to attack South Korea now before they lose the capability altogether. And then there’s this:

The concern is that as a favored, privileged son, perhaps he doesn’t realize the seriousness of his actions. “This kid who they have as a leader now is perhaps starting to believe his own press,” Howard says.

“I was fairly certain that his father was rational – or at least had people around him that wouldn’t let him carry out these threats. His grandfather played it to the hilt successfully,” he adds. “I just don’t know with this young Kim.”

He’s young, quite possibly stupid, and also quite possibly drunk on the compulsory adulation he’s getting. All bets are off.

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