North Korea and its sometimes zany ruling family is fun in the form of a Tumblr or a silly tech executive pretending to be a diplomat. It gets pretty real when they start talking about pointing nukes at the United States, though. That's exactly what happened on Wednesday night, when North Korea's National Defense Commission announced in a statement broadcast over state television that it planned several more rocket launches as well as a nuclear test. It also threatened a "full-fledged confrontation" with the United States. "We are not disguising the fact that the various satellites and long-range rockets that we will fire and the high-level nuclear test we will carry out are targeted at the United States," said the National Defense Commission.
There are a couple of ways of looking at this situation. You could take the optimistic, historically informed approach which tells us that North Korea is the king of empty threats. They're definitely not supposed to be conducting nuclear tests according to United Nations rules, and on Tuesday, the day before North Korea made the threat, the United Nations Security Council passed a U.S.-backed resolution that tightened the already tight sanctions against the country. North Korea obviously didn't appreciate this move, so the threatening statement is being read as a visceral response. However, that does not mean that North Korea will actually follow through with nuclear tests and further alienate themselves from the rest of the world. They've made empty threats in the past.
The other option is, obviously, the pessimistic one. North Korea has also recently made some serious threats that it's followed through on, like the successful launch of a ballistic missile into space last December. This did make their problems with the U.N. and well, pretty much all of its member countries worse. Some experts think that this nuclear test idea is just the next step. If North Korea wants to take "physical counteraction" to boost its "nuclear deterrence both qualitatively and quantitatively," then who knows how far they're willing to go. "This is a strong message from North Korea, basically saying that no matter how much economic aid it receives, no matter how flexible other countries become, it will be negotiating only on the premise that it will be accepted and treated as a nuclear power," said Choi Jin-wook, an analyst at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul. "The North is sending a wake-up alarm to Washington and Seoul."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.