already threatened nuclear holocaust, shredded a sacrosanct armistice
agreement, terminated a military telephone
line, invalidated all non-aggression pacts,
and declared "all-out-war," what do
you do next to show the West you really really mean it this time?
challenge facing North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un as his regime reaches new
heights of rhetorical belligerence in response to a fresh round of U.N.
sanctions and the start of U.S.-South Korea military exercises.
In a way,
it's almost inspiring how many unique and different types of threats the regime
has been able to drum up over the last several weeks. But short of actual war,
what more can Kim Jong Un do to manifest his rage? (He's already played the
Nuke Card, for Pete's sake.) Here are some of the remaining tools in his temper-tantrum
toolbox, according to top North Korean experts:
It's a little counterintuitive but not out of the question. The threat of internal chaos, if delivered from the highest rungs of power, probably wouldn't intimidate the United States, but it would certainly spook
China, which wants to avoid a flood of North Korean refugees across its border. Scott Snyder, senior fellow for Korea Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, told FP this may be the DPRK's last threat left. "It does
seem that the North Koreans are on the verge of running out of threats," Snyder said. "The last option for North Korea is
to use the prospect of its own internal stability as a threat." When asked how the DPRK might convey such a threat, Snyder
said "probably by making oblique references to factionalism or infighting."
to Share Nukes
get the West's attention. "They could escalate by threatening to 'transfer'
deterrent,'" Michael Green, senior vice president for Asia at the Center for
Strategic and International Studies, told FP. This is "something they
threatened in 2003 and carried out in the form of helping Syria with the al-Kibar reactor, which Israel bombed in 2007." Time for a repeat?
That the Armistice Is Over
Short of all-out war, this tactic could
manifest itself in the form of a modest conventional military hit on South Korea -- an approach Pyongyang took in 2010. "It's tough to outdo their comments, but I think
they will have to follow up with some concrete action before they back down in
the name of victory or peace," Jae H. Ku, director of the U.S.-Korea
Institute at Johns Hopkins, told FP. "I don't think they will do anything that will
involve South Korean superiority, as in engaging the South Korean navy, but
they can score some big hits that have larger political consequences. What if
they shelled not some remote island but parts of Ilsan, a major suburb of Seoul
just a few kilometers away from the border?" It goes without saying that the move
would carry the risk of a South Korean counteroffensive and the end of food
aid from the South.
full-scale war, Paul Pillar, director of graduate studies at Georgetown
University's Security Studies Program, emphasized the potential for some form
of international terrorism. "Given that a nuclear strike probably represents
the outer limit of threatened misbehavior, any different threats issued now
would represent something of a comedown," he said. "But there are other -- more
plausible -- things the regime could do that it is not doing now."
He continued. "One type of
behavior that comes to mind is a return to international terrorism of the sort
that included, in particular, the bombing in Rangoon in 1983 that killed
several visiting members of the South Korean cabinet. The sort of threat
that could be voiced might refer in some way to holding individual members of
the South Korean government responsible for what they do to the North and
making them pay." Jae H. Ku also mentioned the potential for acts of terror such as "infiltration,
assassination, abduction, and bombing of airliners."
Regardless, it's safe to say that any escalation beyond the current juncture represents a step into unchartered and extremely dangerous territory.