North Korea is once again angrily threatening war against the US and South Korea.
In a particularly hostile bit of rhetoric broadcast via the country’s official news agency, a spokesman for the National Defense Committee hinted at the country’s willingness to use nuclear weapons, CNN reported. “The army and people of the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] are no longer what they used to be in the past, when they had to counter the US nukes with rifles,” the NDC spokesman said, adding that the country is an “invincible power equipped with both the latest offensive and defensive means unknown to the world, including nuclear deterrence.”
US intelligence suggests that a threat against the mainland is especially troubling. In April, Admiral Bill Gortney, the general in charge of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, said, “Our assessment is that they have the ability to put a nuclear weapon on a KN-08 [missile] and shoot it at the homeland.” (Though that doesn’t necessarily mean that they could effectively detonate a warhead.)
The threat comes in response to the multinational military exercises the US and South Korea are set to begin on Monday (Aug. 17). Each year, the countries run exercises on the Korean peninsula intended to keep their joint defenses on the ready, and to demonstrate the US commitment to the alliance. North Korea has long condemned them as rehearsal for war, and issues warnings every year that they’ll retaliate.
North Korea’s menacing words have come to seem empty, but experts warn it would be a mistake to completely dismiss them.
Last week, the Monterey Institute of International Studies released a report detailing how Pyongyang has been steadily building its nuclear-weapons program. Satellite imagery shows that the country is modernizing a facility near a uranium mine, and it may have expanded its known uranium-enrichment facility at Nyongbyon. Since 2006, it has carried out three nuclear test explosions.
But it’s quite possible that North Korea still poses its greatest threat to those inside the country. Recently, the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, has been carrying out a purge of government officials, including top military staff, as he continues to consolidate his power.