Tensions continue to rise on the Korean peninsula, but the US may start telling everyone, “Relax.” Jim Clancy tells CNN that Pyonyang threatened today to close the Kaesong industrial complex down for good, putting 53,000 of its workers out of their jobs and killing one of the few legitimate sources of hard currency available to the DPRK. It has moved a missile system to the coast, which could either mean another UN-forbidden test or the prelude to an attack.
Still, Clancy reports that the US has begun to think that it might be best to start playing down the Kim regime’s moves rather than keep providing responses to it:
CBS has more on the missile moves:
North Korea has moved a missile with “considerable range” to its east coast, South Korea’s defense minister said Thursday, but he added that there are no signs that Pyongyang is preparing for a full-scale conflict.
The report came hours after North Korea’s military warned that it has been authorized to attack the U.S. using “smaller, lighter and diversified” nuclear weapons. It was the North’s latest war cry against America in recent weeks, with the added suggestion that it had improved its nuclear technology.
South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin dismissed reports in Japanese media that the missile could be a KN-08, which is believed to be a long-range missile that — if operable — could hit the United States.
Kim told lawmakers at a parliamentary committee meeting that the missile has “considerable range” but not enough to hit the U.S. mainland.
The range he described could refer to a mobile North Korean missile known as the Musudan, or Taepodong X, which has a range of around 2,000 miles. That would make Japan and South Korea potential targets, but little is known about the missile’s accuracy.
The US may want to downplay their response to this in PR terms, but the military reaction has already been significant. The Pentagon is rushing a missile-defense system to Guam that wasn’t scheduled to arrive for two more years. That doesn’t sound like the US thinks this is business as usual, nor does it appear that the Obama administration will simply allow North Korea to fire off missiles over the Pacific without an attempt to shoot them down, as we declined to do in 2009.
Ignoring the threat and shrugging off Pyongyang’s rhetoric may have been a better strategy a couple of weeks ago than it is today. The threat to permanently close Kaesong suggests, though, that this isn’t simply the usual saber-rattling done to squeeze the six-nation group for a little more aid. North Korea has a lot more to lose in closing Kaesong than does South Korea in terms of economics, which would make them even more dependent on aid. They aren’t going to close that down just to get a one-time boost in fuel and food supplies. The longer Kaesong stays locked, the more it’s going to be clear that something new is happening in Pyongyang, and that ignoring them won’t address that new reality.