The latest in the North Korea drama is the release of a video portraying US President Barack Obama and American troops going up in flames. But it's not just cheap and cheesy rhetoric by a new leader who wants to be taken seriously: North Korea is preparing for a war because, in their eyes, the US and its allies may really be planning an offensive.
Earlier this month, we were regaled with a similar video, this time portraying a US city being attacked by North Korean missiles. Before that, in December, North Korea launched a satellite, and its official news agency declared a "Nationwide preparation for an all-out great war for national reunification."
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Earlier this week, satellite images indicated renewed activity at a North Korean nuclear site where a test was launched in early December. On 12 December, North Korea launched a long-range rocket putting a satellite into orbit. This is a major success for North Korea and few others have achieved it. (South Korea responded by successfully launching its own satellite into orbit for the first time in late January.)
The Obama administration's stated policy on North Korea—the one for public consumption—is "strategic patience", but there's nothing patient about this policy. On the public platform, the media finds it amusing to jest about the careful and seemingly unserious US response to North Korean provocations. Behind the scenes, however, the US has been working up to an offensive since the death of Kim Jong-il a year ago—with Washington hedging its bets that the succession comes along with enough instability to open an window of opportunity for regime change.
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Pyongyang's activities since then have been those of a country on edge, and this is why:
- The first joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea since the death of Kim Jong-il suddenly changed their nature, with new war games included preemptive artillery attacks on North Korea.
- Another amphibious landing operation simulation took on vastly larger proportions following Kim Jong-il's death (the sheer amount of equipment deployed was amazing: 13 naval vessels, 52 armored vessels, 40 fighter jets and 9,000 US troops).
- South Korean officials began talking of Kim Jong-il's death as a prime opportunity to pursue a regime-change strategy .
- South Korea unveiled a new cruise missile that could launch a strike inside North Korea and is working fast to increase its full-battery range to strike anywhere inside North Korea.
- South Korea openly began discussing asymmetric warfare against North Korea.
- The US military's Key Resolve Foal Eagle computerized war simulation games suddenly changed, too, simulating the deployment of 100,000 South Korean troops on North Korean territory following a regime change.
- Japan was brought on board, allowing the US to deploy a second advanced missile defense radar system on its territory and the two carried out unprecedented war games.
- It is also not lost on anyone that despite what on the surface appears to be the US' complete lack of interest in a new South Korean naval base that is in the works, this base will essentially serve as an integrated missile defense system run by the US military and housing Aegis destroyers.
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The bottom line here is that the US and South Korea have gone on the offensive, and this is prompting a flurry of activity by Pyongyang, which will now put even more effort into its nuclear program.
While it is perhaps more amusing to paint a portrait of Kim Jong-un as an eccentric attention-seeker, and while there is an element in Pyongyang's actions that is about solidifying stability at home, what this is really about is North Korea's belief that an invasion is imminent.
A move on North Korea would also be in line with the Obama administration's Asia-Pacific strategic shift, which has the US Navy bringing old forward bases back online across region, from Thailand and Vietnam to the Philippines and Australia.