Pyonyang to Seoul: Sanctions mean war

A day after explicitly threatening the US with its missile and nuke program, North Korea turned its rhetorical sights south.  Pyongyang warned South Korea that cooperation in the new round of sanctions after its previous missile test would prompt “strong physical countermeasures,” and would amount to a “declaration of war”:

North Korea continued its barrage of fiery rhetoric Friday, warning South Korea of “strong physical countermeasures” if Seoul takes part in new U.N. sanctions aimed at punishing Pyongyang for a December rocket launch.

“Sanctions mean war and a declaration of war against us,” the Committee for Peaceful Unification of the Fatherland said in a statement carried by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency.

Meanwhile, a representative for South Korea’s new president said she would not tolerate North Korean provocations, but would continue to push for dialogue with Pyongyang. A special envoy to President-elect Park Geun-hye made the remarks just hours after the North’s top governing body declared it would continue atomic tests and rocket launches.

The Associated Press believes that the threats are “overblown”:

In the face of international condemnation, North Korea can usually be counted on for such flights of rhetorical pique. In recent years it threatened to turn South Korea into a “sea of fire,” and to wage a “sacred war” against its enemies.

If the past is any indication, its threats of war are overblown. But the chances it will conduct another nuclear test are high. And it is gaining ground in its missile program, experts say, though still a long way from seriously threatening the U.S. mainland.

“It’s not the first time they’ve made a similar threat of war,” said Ryoo Kihl-jae, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. “What’s more serious than the probability of an attack on South Korea is that of a nuclear test. I see very slim chances of North Korea following through with its threat of war.”

Although North Korea’s leadership is undeniably concerned that it might be attacked or bullied by outside powers, the tough talk is mainly an attempt to bolster its bargaining position in diplomatic negotiations.

That’s certainly been the case so far.  Pyongyang usually ramps up the rhetoric when either their internal political situation becomes shaky or they desperately need food and fuel supplies.  It’s winter, and it’s not too difficult to imagine that North Korea would be in desperate need of both at the moment, and may be applying pressure to get the UN and the Pacific Rim to back off of sanctions and give the DRPK some humanitarian aid.

Still, that’s an easy conclusion to reach from this far away.  ABC News reports from Seoul that they’re understandably a little more concerned that the rhetoric may be reality:

The Kim regime may be still crying wolf, but if they manage to put a nuke on a missile that can actually hit a target, that may change quickly. And they are progressing toward that capability, slowly as Gloria Riviera reports, but demonstrably. Even China seems to be taking this more seriously than in the past, threatening to cut aid to its client state if Kim doesn’t dial it down and return to the six-party talks. Sooner or later, the Kims will stop crying wolf and become the wolf if left unchecked.