North Korea Threatens “Special Actions” Against The South

Another round of threats from North Korea.

In the wake of the abject failure of its highly publicized missile launch, and the subsequent ratcheting up of international sanctions that followed, the North Koreans are back to their old game of threatening war:

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea on Monday accused South Korea’s government and news media of slandering its leadership and threatened “special actions” by the military, a sharp escalation of the bellicose statements that have accompanied the rise of Kim Jong-un, the North’s new and still unproven leader.

North Korea has regularly threatened to attack the government of President Lee Myung-bak in South Korea. But in recent weeks, its threats have become harsher and more specific, prompting some analysts to warn that North Korea’s new leadership might instigate a military provocation as part of its effort to establish Mr. Kim’s authority at home and boost his potential negotiating leverage with the United States.

On Monday, the North Korean military said it would act “soon” and named its targets, including the government of President Lee, several South Korean newspapers and television stations and “rat-like” elements that it said were “destroying fair-minded public opinion.”

“The special actions of our revolutionary armed forces will start soon to meet the reckless challenge of the group of traitors,” the North Korean military command’s “special operation action group” said in a statement carried by the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency. “They will reduce all the rat-like groups and the bases for provocations to ashes in three or four minutes, in much shorter time, by unprecedented peculiar means and methods of our own style.”

The Defense Ministry in Seoul stuck to its policy of not reacting to what it considers North Korean propaganda, but it repeated that the South Korean military and its American allies were ready to cope with any provocation from the North.

The specific threats are typical of the kind of bizarre rhetoric we’ve repeatedly seen from Pyongyang:

The North’s special actions “will reduce all the rat-like groups and the bases for provocations to ashes in three or four minutes, (or) in much shorter time, by unprecedented peculiar means and methods of our own style,” according to the statement by the special operation action group of the Korean People’s Army’s Supreme Command.

Some South Korean analysts speculated the North’s statement was meant to unnerve Seoul; others that the North could be planning terrorist attacks.

It seemed unlikely that North Korea would launch a large-scale military attack against Seoul, which is backed by nearly 30,000 U.S. troops stationed in the South, said Kim Young-soo, a professor at Sogang University in Seoul.

It’s easy to dismiss these threats as typical North Korean bluster, but  it is worth remembering that recent years have seen the North Koreans shell a South Korean island and sink a South Korean warship. So, such threats should not be idly dismissed. Moreover, it wouldn’t be at all atypical for the North to ratchet up tensions on the peninsula in order to achieve other goals. Among those goals could be to bolster the internal reputation of Kim Jong Un, who may still be trying to assert his authority over a military that has been around a lot loner than he has. Another goal could be to lead the West into another round of deal making that leads to the resumption of the food aid that was cancelled after the missile launch went forward earlier this month. Given that there are reports that recent harvests in the North have been fairly bad, there may well be concerns in Pyongyang not only about feeding the citizenry, but about feeding the army itself.

The conventional wisdom about North Korea, such as it exists, seems always to be that the regime would never be stupid enough to start an all-out war on the peninsula because, notwithstanding the fact that they could inflict some serious damage on the South at the start, they would ultimately be doomed and the Kim regime would collapse. At the same time, it’s assumed that the Chinese would restrain the North from doing anything stupid (although the actual amount of control Beijing has here is debatable to say the least.) These are both valid points. At the same time, though, the North Koreans could end up being stupid or desperate enough to actually try to undertake terrorist attacks in the South as a way of getting concessions. As I said, this is the same regime that decided just within the last two  years to engage in actions that, had things not calmed down, quite easily could have turned into a casus belli. That’s kind of the problem with dealing with a hereditary dictatorship that’s armed to the teeth and led by a 20-something kid.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. al-Ameda says:

    I’m sure that S. Korea is fearful of another failed Missile launch.

  2. Hey Norm says:

    Kim Jong-un hopes to prove that failing to get his missile working properly last week was just a fluke.

  3. legion says:

    Shorter North Korea:
    “You cannot defeat my Starving Monkey Style kung-fu!”

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    The intelligence guesstimates on actual North Korean capabilities are that the DPRK has from 600 to 800 short range Scud-B and Scud-C ballistic missiles deployed and another 200 or so longer range Nodong-1 ballistic missiles.

    In addition the North has, maybe, 50 KN-02s and under a dozen medium range Taepodong-1s. Whatever its nuclear capabilities (I suspect minimal to non-existent), the North has chemical and biological weapons capability.

    Bottom line: the DPRK is probably not capable of defeating the South but it’s capable of doing substantial mischief. Its capabilities shouldn’t be over-estimated but they shouldn’t be dismissed, either.

  5. matt says:

    @al-Ameda: Unfortunately for south Korea their capital is well within range of a large amount of artillery which the north koreans are quite capable of using properly.

  6. Dazedandconfused says:

    I wouldn’t predict terrorist attacks. If the food situation is dire, as in: “We can’t even feed our army”, Un may decide he needs a war, or a quasi-war, to keep control of starving troops and their generals.

    We might want to re-consider the food-linked-to-compliance theory, unless we are truly willing to risk war.

  7. James in LA says:

    “All your base are belong to us.” – Kim Zero Wing