Today In North Korea Bluster

The bluster out of Pyongyang isn’t letting up at all.

Today, for example, saw the North Koreans bar South Korean workers from entering the joint industrial zone that the North and South have been operating for the better part of a decade, while the United States moves to beef up defenses in our western frontier:

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea blocked South Koreans from crossing the heavily armed border to a jointly operated industrial park on Wednesday, raising the possibility that the North might be adding to its recent cascade of threats and provocative actions by cutting the last remaining major symbol of inter-Korean cooperation.

Angry over joint American-South Korean military drills and a recent round of United Nations sanctions, the North has in recent weeks threatened to strike at the United States, the South’s ally, in Guam, Hawaii and the mainland United States. While analysts doubt the potency of the North’s arsenal, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel responded Wednesday that the North’s recent inflammatory language and actions presented “a real and clear danger” to the interests of South Korea, Japan and the United States, and the Pentagon announced that it would significantly increase its missile-defense systems deployed to the Pacific.

A land-based Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, or THAAD, would be sent to Guam in the coming weeks “as a precautionary move to strengthen our regional defense posture against the North Korean regional ballistic missile threat,” the Pentagon said. The system includes a truck-mounted launcher, interceptor missiles, an integrated fire control system and advanced tracking radar.

Earlier this week, the Defense Department announced that two of the Navy’s Aegis-class missile-defense warships also would be positioned in Pacific waters to watch North Korea. Those vessels have radar and interceptor missiles, as well. Adding a land-based system to Guam would free the ships to provide coverage to other areas.

The jointly operated industrial complex, in the North Korean town of Kaesong, had continued to operate for days since the North threatened to shut it down. But on Wednesday, more than 480 South Koreans who showed up at a border crossing were denied permission to cross, said the Unification Ministry of South Korea, which is in charge of relations with the North. North Korea promised to allow 861 South Koreans currently staying in Kaesong to return home if they wished, the ministry said. But with no replacements arriving, only 33 immediately decided to return home.

The eight-year-old industrial park, on the western edge of the border of the two Koreas, produced $470 million worth of goods last year, helping provide a badly needed source of hard currency for the cash-strapped North. It generates more than $92 million a year in wages for 53,400 North Koreans employed by 123 textile and other labor-intensive South Korean factories there.

It was not the first time that North Korea had disrupted the park’s operation. It blocked cross-border traffic three times in 2009, once for three days, out of anger over joint military drills by South Korean and American troops. That blockade was lifted when the military exercises ended. The current American-South Korean military drills are to continue until the end of April.

China’s deputy foreign minister, Zhang Yesui, met with the ambassadors of the two Koreas and the United States on Tuesday to express serious concern over the situation on the Korean Peninsula, Hong Lei, a spokesman of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said Wednesday.

“The improvement of relationships between the two Koreas, as well as their reconciliation and cooperation, are conducive to the peace and stability on the peninsula,” he said. “We hope the two Koreas can resolve the relevant issues through dialogue and consultation.”

Well, that Chinese hope for resolution was responded to by a North Korean announcement that its military forces were now authorized to direct nuclear strikes in the United States:

The North Korean army said Thursday it had final approval to launch “merciless” military strikes on the United States, involving the possible use of “cutting-edge” nuclear weapons.

In a statement published by the official KCNA news agency, the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) said it was formally informing Washington that reckless US threats would be “smashed by … cutting-edge smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear strike means”.

“The merciless operation of (our) revolutionary armed forces in this regard has been finally examined and ratified,” the statement said.

North Korea had threatened a “pre-emptive” nuclear strike against the United States a month ago, and last week the supreme army command ordered its strategic rocket units to combat status for strikes on the US mainland and US bases in Guam and Hawaii.

“The moment of explosion is approaching fast,” Thursday’s statement said, adding that a war could break out on the Korean peninsula “today or tomorrow”.

“In view of this situation, the KPA General Staff in charge of all operations will take powerful practical military counteractions in succession,” it said.

Despite a successful long-range rocket launch in December, most experts believe North Korea is years from developing a genuine inter-continental ballistic missile that could strike the mainland United States.

Hawaii and Guam would also be outside the range of its medium-range missiles, which would be capable, however, of striking US bases in South Korea and Japan.

Meanwhile, the isolated country said Tuesday it will escalate production of nuclear weapons material, including restarting a long-shuttered plutonium reactor, in what outsiders see as Pyongyang’s latest attempt to extract U.S. concessions by raising fears of war.

A spokesman for the North’s General Department of Atomic Energy said scientists will quickly begin work “readjusting and restarting” a uranium enrichment plant and a graphite-moderated, five-megawatt reactor that could produce a bomb’s worth of plutonium each year. Experts considered the uranium announcement to be a public declaration from Pyongyang that it will make highly enriched uranium that could be used for bomb fuel.

The plutonium reactor began operations in 1986 but was shut down in 2007 as part of international nuclear disarmament talks that have since stalled. It wasn’t immediately clear if North Korea had already begun work to restart facilities at its main Nyongbyon nuclear complex. Experts estimate it could take anywhere from three months to a year to reactivate the reactor.

The announcement will boost concerns in Washington and among its allies about North Korea’s timetable for building a nuclear-tipped missile that can reach the United States, although it is still believed to be years away from developing that technology.

The reaction to this latest North Korean threat seems to be more laughter than anything else. At this point, Kim Jong Un is beginning to sound like Ming The Merciless from the old Flash Gordon serials.

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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. rudderpedals says:

    The Globe and Mail article mentions a nuke attack threat in the headline but it looks like an update excised a big chunk of stuff that you’d quoted 🙁

  2. Dazedandconfused says:

    The guys who are looking at missile ranges may be missing the boat.

    There is a theory that seems to fit events. All the extra bluster took attention away from their People’s Assembly meeting, which formalized and normalized their nuclear weapons, including language that it would be treason for any of their diplomats to negotiate on that point at all. It was also announced that these nuclear weapons would enable a reduction in size of over-all forces and the savings would be used for “economic improvements”. This is something that would have raised quite a stink, had it been the only news. They have declared nukes are off the negotiating table forever. Period. Full stop. They are no longer going to even pretend to negotiate the issue.

    Kim The III’s grand strategy may be coming to light here. They wish to start transforming their economy, and intend to sell the power of their mighty nuclear arsenal (whether it actually exists or not) to their people so they do not worry over much as the “machine” is cut down. This will be a long, disruptive transition, it’s all military all the time in there. The people must feel safe, or they might be too easy for an ambitious (and spooked) general to manipulate.

    I think they know the lot of the peasants must improve, and be perceived to be improving further, before they can consider opening the place up to the world. There are going to be a lot of splainin‘ to do as the truth comes out. These regimes have painted themselves in quite a corner with their BS.

    Here’s a list of what the adopted. They stick to it, this seems workable. Have the Chinese already signed off on it? We will find out soon.

    “An ordinance of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in this regard was promulgated on Monday, 1 April.”

    “The DPRK is a full-fledged nuclear weapons state capable of beating back any aggressor troops at one strike, firmly defending the socialist system and providing a sure guarantee for the happy life of the people….”

    “The Supreme People’s Assembly of the DPRK decides to consolidate the position of the nuclear weapons state as follows:

    1. The nuclear weapons of the DPRK are just means for defense as it was compelled to have access to them to cope with the ever-escalating hostile policy of the U.S. and nuclear threat.

    2. They serve the purpose of deterring and repelling the aggression and attack of the enemy against the DPRK and dealing deadly retaliatory blows at the strongholds of aggression until the world is denuclearized.

    3. The DPRK shall take practical steps to bolster up the nuclear deterrence and nuclear retaliatory strike power both in quality and quantity to cope with the gravity of the escalating danger of the hostile forces’ aggression and attack.

    4. The nuclear weapons of the DPRK can be used only by a final order of the Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army to repel invasion or attack from a hostile nuclear weapons state and make retaliatory strikes.

    5. The DPRK shall neither use nukes against the non-nuclear states nor threaten them with those weapons unless they join a hostile nuclear weapons state in its invasion and attack on the DPRK.

    6. The DPRK shall strictly observe the rules on safekeeping and management of nukes and ensuring the stability of nuclear tests.

    7. The DPRK shall establish a mechanism and order for their safekeeping and management so that nukes and their technology, weapon-grade nuclear substance may not leak out illegally.

    8. The DPRK shall cooperate in the international efforts for nuclear non-proliferation and safe management of nuclear substance on the principle of mutual respect and equality, depending on the improvement of relations with hostile nuclear weapons states.

    9. The DPRK shall strive hard to defuse the danger of a nuclear war and finally build a world without nukes and fully support the international efforts for nuclear disarmament against nuclear arms race.

    10. The related institutions shall take thorough practical steps for implementing this ordinance.”

  3. Neil Hudelson says:

    Does anyone get the feeling Kim the III watched the new Red Dawn and thought it was a documentary about America’s military weakness?

  4. matt bernius says:

    The reaction to this latest North Korean threat seems to be more laughter than anything else. At this point, Kim Jong Un is beginning to sound like Ming The Merciless from the old Flash Gordon serials.

    Would that the only reaction to this *was* laughter. Sadly, too many folks in certain right wing circles (politicians, talkers/bloggers, and commentors alike) are more than happy to jump when Kim Jong Un commands and start agitating for some type of military response.

  5. At this point, Kim Jong Un is beginning to sound like Ming The Merciless from the old Flash Gordon serials.

    Only Ming could back it up.

    To me, though, he sounds like his Dad in the Team America movie.

  6. Rob in CT says:


    Interesting take. That seems plausible.