North Korea Threatens The South, Again

The North Koreans are back to their old tricks.

North and South Korea

In what may be the next step in whatever it is that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has planned in his latest round of provocative behavior that began with the arrest and murder of his Uncle and closest adviser, the DPRK seems once again to be threatening its neighbor to the South:

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea has sent a letter to the office of President Park Geun-hye of South Korea, threatening “retaliatory strikes without warning” if conservative activists’ anti-Pyongyang rallies in Seoul were not stopped, officials here said on Friday.

North Korea has often used such heated language against Seoul and Washington before. But its latest threat came amid concerns that the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, might stage an armed provocation to raise tensions with the outside world and bring about domestic unity after the execution of Jang Song-thaek, his uncle and presumed mentor, who had been considered the No. 2 man in the North.

For analysts and policy makers in the region, Mr. Jang’s execution on Dec. 12 raised disturbing questions: Was it a sign of instability within the secretive regime and if so, will its hard-line military conduct provocative actions to raise its profile amid the internal political turmoil?

In its letter delivered through the border village of Panmunjom on Thursday, the National Defense Commission, a top North Korean governing agency headed by Mr. Kim, condemned recent rallies in downtown Seoul in which anti-North Korean and Confucian activists burned Mr. Kim in effigy, berating him as a “devil” who killed his own uncle. North Korea called the rallies “megaprovocations” against Mr. Kim’s authority.

The letter was addressed to the National Security Council at President Park’s office in Seoul, said Kim Min-seok, spokesman for the South Korean Defense Ministry. “We are closely monitoring the North Korean military’s moves, preparing to sternly react to any provocations,” he said.

South Korea ordered its military to be extra vigilant, as analysts warned that Mr. Kim or those who engineered Mr. Jang’s downfall may purge more North Korean officials considered close to Mr. Jang. The South Korean defense minister, Kim Kwan-jin, has warned that some hard-line generals in the North might try something reckless to show their loyalty to Mr. Kim.

North Korea’s threat on Thursday came the same day it allowed a group of diplomats and financial officials from Group of 20 countries to go to a factory park North and South Korea operate jointly in the North Korean border town of Kaesong. Officials from the two Koreas also met there on Thursday to discuss using foreign investment to industrial complex — a project the North appeared to continue to support despite its domestic political troubles.


North Korea is using the two-pronged tactic of doing negotiation on one hand and making threats on the other,” Kim Chun-sik, a former South Korean vice minister of unification, said at a seminar on Friday organized by the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University. “We cannot rule out the possibility that the North Korean military might attempt a local armed provocation to raise its profile.”

The hard-liners within the ruling Workers’ Party of North Korea and its military probably engineered Mr. Jang’s purge, according to a paper presented at the seminar by Hyon Song-il, a former North Korean diplomat who works as a researcher at the South Korean government’s Institute for National Security Strategy. Mr. Jang, widely considered a moderate within the Pyongyang regime, had clashed with the hard-liners over policies concerning economic reform and the North’s nuclear and missile programs, as well as over dividing power and economic benefits within the elites, he said.

“On the surface, Jang’s purge appears to help Kim Jong-un establish himself as a monolithic leader,” said Mr. Hyon. “But in reality, the future of his regime is more uncertain because he lost what used to be his biggest supporter to an internal power struggle.”

We’ve seen this game before, of course.  The DPRK ups the tensions on the Korean Peninsula by directing threatening rhetoric at the South, Japan, or even directly at the United States, sometimes it even resorted to action offensive military action such as shelling South Korean islands it claims as its own and, once, sinking a South Korean naval vessel patrolling international waters and killing dozens of sailors. In just the past year, it has engaged in some of its most provocative action by cutting off an emergency communication system with the South, declaring the 1952 armistice to be void, and closing a jointly operated factory zone that employed thousands of North and South Korean citizens. In the past, these actions have obviously been intended as a method of garnering world attention or in an effort to gain concessions from the West such as food aid or a relaxation of the sanctions tied to its nuclear program. Other times, they have quite obviously been tied to something happening internally in the North such as an effort to boost the political control of the leadership. This last motive appears to have been the primary motive behind the actions earlier this year, and given the context it appears to be the motive this time around. How far the North may go this time is something only Kim and his closest aides likely know.

Meanwhile, as the North once again rattles sabers at the South, Dennis Rodman is on the case:

BEIJING — Former NBA star Dennis Rodman says he doesn’t care how North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un runs his county. He’s just in Pyongyang to hang out and help Kim field a basketball team.

“I can’t control what they do with their government, I can’t control what they say or how they do things here,” Rodman told the Associated Press after arriving in North Korea on Thursday. “I’m just trying to come here as a sports figure and try to hope I can open the door for a lot of people in the country.”

Rodman plans to bring 12 ex-NBA players to Pyongyang for an exhibition game Jan. 8 to mark Kim’s birthday. Rodman said nothing Kim does, including the recent execution of his own uncle, would get in the way.

Kim had Jang Song Thaek shot for treason though exactly what he did has not been made public in this communist dictatorship. A longtime powerful figure in North Korea, Jang was accused of many things in state media including womanizing, gambling and embezzlement.

Rodman left for Pyongyang from Beijing airport Thursday afternoon and will stay in North Korea until Monday. He said he will return to North Korea next month with 12 American basketball players, whose names he will reveal on this trip.

“I hope this game brings a lot of countries together. Sports is so important to people around the world,” Rodman said at the Beijing airport of his “basketball diplomacy” mission.

“I hope this is going to engage American people, especially with Obama, he has to try to talk to” Kim, said Rodman, who in his previous trip to Pyongyang told Kim he has a “friend for life.”

Bizzarely, there have been some who hoped that Rodman would somehow be some kind of messenger to the North Korean people, but it’s clear from his statement that this isn’t the case at all. For whatever reason, this bizarre former NBA star has decided that a guy who has his own family members executed is his “friend” and only seems to care about basketball. Anyone looking for any kind of logic behind his actions should just remember that Dennis Rodman has always been kind of nuts, this just appears to be just the latest example.

One final note about the North’s latest threat. It was apparently delivered via fax. Fax? Seriously? When was the last time anyone used a Fax Machine?

Anyway, keep an eye out for something more for the North Koreans while the rest of us are celebrating Christmas I suppose.

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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. Ron Beasley says:

    It will be curious to see how China responds to this. North Korea has to be a a real boil for them. As for Rodman his presence in NK now would make it a good time to bomb the hell out of North korea’

  2. C. Clavin says:

    I think we ought to equip Dennis Rodman with a bomb vest.

  3. Rob in CT says:


  4. Woody says:

    Yeah, I was surprised by the fax machine aspect as well.

    I guess President Park left his beeper in his car.

  5. Andre Kenji says:

    @Ron Beasley: The Chinese knows very well that there is very little that North Korea could do against the South.

  6. Franklin says:

    @C. Clavin: Finally, somebody with a solution!

  7. 11B40 says:


    I liked the North Korean folk poetry aspect of the “retaliatory strikes without warning” the best. Now, certainly a Jesuit might say, “That construction needs sharpening.” but on an emotional level it just works so very well. Almost Obamaesque.

  8. grumpy realist says:

    Just drop an asteroid already….

  9. CSK says:

    Well, he hasn’t threatened to start throwing the toys out of his playpen lately. I suppose we were overdue for another faux tantrum.

  10. rudderpedals says:

    Dennis Rodman can take the Robertsons with him. Juche Dynasty meets Duck Dynasty.

  11. CSK says:


    Conflating “Duck” and “Juche,” would that make it the “Douche Dynasty”?

  12. rudderpedals says:

    @CSK: Definitely!

  13. Tillman says:

    I’m just waiting for the day we all ignore another antic of the North’s like this and then they follow through with honest-to-God warfare.

  14. dazedandconfused says:


    I think most of what NK announces “to the world” are actually announcements intended for their own people. This, IMO, actually indicates people running the place are the opposite of suicidal. They are instead clinging desperately to their own personal survival.

    Lil’ Kim brought some Disney characters over for a show in his early days, and plays with Dennis now. He was educated in Switzerland and probably harbors(ed?) dreams of opening the place up, but the prospect of what that might entail scares the kimchee out of the old guard.

    This analysis might be right:

    “…a praetorian state.”

  15. John425 says:

    I think the U.S. should send some old film clips of the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to Kim Jong Un and let him reflect on the results.

  16. dazedandconfused says:

    I think it’s best to pretend to ignore it myself. While I doubt they are suicidal, this policy is fraught with peril. Some, probably most, of their junior field officers near the border believe the BS, and the South Koreans have sworn the next destroyer that gets sunk or island that gets shelled will be thoroughly avenged, and right quick too.

  17. 11B40 says:


    Greetings, John425;

    i don’t disagree with your recommendation, but I recently got a DVD set entitled “The Korean War: 60th Anniversary Commemorative Documentary Collection from Mill Creek Entertainment (via Amazon) and old Seoul wasn’t looking to good as the conflict ebbed and flowed over it several times.