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The global community’s attention has been drawn once again to North Korea and its activities. Twice has Kim Jong-un’s dictatorship in recent weeks set alarm bells ringing. Relations began to sour earlier this month when hundreds of thousands of balloons carrying anti-Kim leaflets crossed into the North from the South.
The propaganda was met with fierce reprisal from Kim’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, who called the South “human scum” and “the enemy” – claiming that it was the first move in a planned strategic attack.
Then, just days later, the North blew up the inter-Korean liaison office in the border city of Kaesong, destroying what had been a de facto diplomatic outpost for communication between Pyongyang and Seoul.
The direct line between the two had already been cut by the North, putting a halt to talks that had been happening daily since 2018.
Shortly after the blast at Kaesong, Pyongyang’s propagandists warned that its military planned to re-enter border areas that were disarmed after the 2018 inter-Korean Comprehensive Military Agreement.
It is a military threat that has been looming for a considerable time, and one in which many experts say North Korea would have no qualms about using it.
Sochi Dreazen, an American journalist who covered the Iraq War and has followed the Korean tensions, claimed in a 2018 piece for Vox that “it’s possible Kim would use every weapon of mass destruction he possesses”.
Simultaneously, however, Mr Dreazen said such is the unpredictability of war that “it’s possible he wouldn’t use any of them”.
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North Korea specialists have said that Pyongyang’s most recent movements appear to be in the vein of military provocation.
This, they explained, is an attempt from Kim and his advisers to reset negotiations with Washington and push for an easing of crippling economic sanctions.
Despite having three meetings in two years, talks have stalled between the US and North Korea.
Sue Mi Terry, a former CIA analyst told the Financial Times she expected more North Korean actions this year, including against the US.
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She said the attack on the liaison office was merely the “opening salvo”.
The North Korean military has an enormous number of rocket launchers and artillery pieces within range of Seoul.
The unbiased Congressional Research Service estimates that Kim could hammer the South Korean capital with an astonishing 10,000 rockets per minute.
Such a feat could kill more than 300,000 South Koreans in the opening days of the conflict.
This is even before the later use of nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons.
The North has not yet sent any direct threat to the US.
Many are expecting something similar to Kim’s 2018 New Year’s address, where he issued Donald Trump, the US, and the global community a thinly veiled warning.
The message – like the most recent agitation – was to make the US and others aware that his country’s nuclear forces had become a reality, not just a threat.
He said: “We must mass-produce nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles and speed up their deployment.
“We should always keep ready to take immediate nuclear counter-attacks against the enemy’s scheme for a nuclear war.
“The US should know that the button for nuclear weapons is on my table.”
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