After 60 years of crying wolf, can any NorK threat really be taken seriously?

There’s an obvious explanation for this one, but even by the usual saber-rattling standards, it’s extreme.

North Korea said Friday that it will sever its emergency hot line with Seoul and nullify non-aggression agreements between the two countries, amid escalating tensions over the North’s nuclear test last month.

“The DPRK abrogates all agreements on nonaggressions reached between the North and the South,” the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, a propaganda organ against the South, said in an English statement carried by the North’s Korean Central News Agency. “The DPRK will close the Panmunjom liaison channel between the North and the South.”

Yesterday Kim Jong-un went to the coast off of Yeonpyeong, which was bombarded by North Korean artillery three years ago, to remind the troops that they should feel free to start firing at the South first if things get any hotter:

The North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has visited troops on the border with the South and has reportedly told them to “annihilate the enemy” as tensions continue to rise in the region…

Kim Jong-un also instructed his troops to ‘make the first gunfire’ if tensions with South Korea boil over.

One Korean expert at Stanford told CSM that the tone lately, replete with threats to nuke America, is unusually belligerent even by North Korea’s standards and that he’s not laughing it off. Meanwhile, South Korea responded to NK by warning that, if nukes are used, they’ll wipe them off the face of the Earth. (Which isn’t true, of course. It’s the U.S. Air Force that’ll wipe the North off the face of the Earth.)

So what’s really going on here, assuming Kim hasn’t decided that life can’t get any sweeter after watching a game with Dennis Rodman and thus now’s as good a time as any for national suicide? Three possibilities. One: He’s testing the enemy’s new leadership. The South’s first woman president, Park Geun-hye, was sworn in just two weeks ago. Maybe he wants to see how tough she is, or maybe he feels pressure to show his subjects prisoners that the North won’t be intimidated by a female. Which is stupid, if true. Precisely in order to show that she’s no less capable of defending the South than any man would be, Park’s unlikely to back down. Recipe for confrontation? Two: Maybe Kim’s still trying to prove himself to the military. Says the Times:

“The higher decibel of invective is a bit worrisome,” said Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico and presidential candidate, who has traveled to North Korea eight times, most recently in January. “It’s the highest negative level I’ve ever seen, and it probably means that the hard-line elements, particularly the military and not the Foreign Ministry, are in control.”…

According to current and former administration officials, there is a growing discussion within the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon over whether Mr. Kim is using each new test of rockets and nuclear devices to solidify his position with the military, his most important single constituency. “Under that theory,” one official who has dealt with North Korea often said recently, “even a firefight with the South Koreans might help him, as long as it doesn’t escalate into something that threatens the regime.”

Makes me wonder if all the goofy Rodman photo ops didn’t put pressure on Kim to “atone” with a bout of hyper-belligerence. He looked like a total goon mooning over some American basketball player the way he did. Not an image that the fanatics in the military want to project. Three: What’s different about the UN new sanctions, of course, is that China’s on board, which poses a unique challenge for North Korea. If their one reliable ally cuts them off, where do they go then? Read this short but worthy piece from Walter Russell Mead about the NorKs’ predicament. The new saber-rattling is a message to Beijing not to forget that they’ve got a lunatic regime right next door that can make lots of trouble if it’s not properly contained. And the only means of containment short of war is appeasement with food aid and diplomatic support. Your move, China.

Here’s Rodman’s new BFF riling up the troops off the coast of Yeonpyeong.

Update: Doug Powers says of the video, “I haven’t seen a reception like this since Obama visited the set of Hardball.”