North Korea turns volume of missile systems up to 11

North Korea issued a new threat to the United States on Tuesday saying its long-range field artillery units are now on the "highest alert" possible. Like turning an amplifier "up to eleven" -- a concept that doesn't actually make a guitar louder -- the move is stylistic rather than substantive.

That's not to say U.S. intelligence officials may not be underestimating the North's capabilities -- a concern that Kevin Baron reported on this morning -- but the new "warning" of an attack on the U.S. homeland isn't substantively different from previous threats against the homeland. "It does seem that the North Koreans are on the verge of running out of threats," Scott Snyder, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, told Foreign Policy earler this month. 

To demonstrate this, we've updated our running list of North Korea threats below. But first: This Is Spinal Tap:


And here: The latest threats from North Korea beginning with the warnings that followed the international sanctions over Pyongyang's third nuclear test in February. 

1. We now have "lighter and smaller" nukes, and we're not afraid to use them against the United States.

2. Are you ready for the silent treatment? We just cut our military hotline with South Korea.

3. We also just tore up all previous non-aggression pacts with South Korea.

4. In response to these UN sanctions, we're going to "exercise the right to a pre-emptive nuclear attack."

5.  We're ready for "all-out war."

6. We just invalidated the 1953 armistice, so anything's fair game.

7. Seriously, that armistice agreement has been invalidated.

8. Now we're sharply increasing the number of training flights for our fighter-jets.

9. Not impressed? How about we turn South Korea's Baengyeong Island into a "sea of fire"?

10. Now we're conducting live-fire drills near a disputed maritime border.

11. Just FYI, our military personnel are standing by to "annihilate the U.S. imperialist aggressors." 

12. At this very moment, all of our citizens are singing a song about wiping out the "U.S. imperialists."

13. We're so serious about going to war that we conducted a practice drone strike.

14. That's it: We're conducting air-raid drills.

15. We will order "strong military counter-action" if the U.S. conducts more B-52 bomber sorties.

16. Seriously, we'll destroy your military bases in Japan and Guam if you fly one more B-52 bomber around here.

17. One more move and we'll start taking hostages ... American hostages. 

18. Don't mess with us, we just set our field artillery units to the "highest alert." 



Stats junkie successfully predicts another African coup

Political scientist Jay Ulfelder, who's quickly becoming the Nate Silver of coups, has accurately predicted another one with the ouster of President Francois Bozizé of the Central African Republic. On Monday, rebel fighters cemented control over the country's capital, Bangui, as Bozizé fled to Cameroon for temporary refuge.

A coup isn't something anyone really wants to rejoice in predicting, but in Ulfelder's 2013 forecast of coups, the Central African Republic was ranked in the top 20 most at-risk countries. (Not bad for a phenomenon that's famously difficult to predict.) This comes just one year after Ulfelder successfully predicted coups in Mali and Guinea-Bissau, which he had also categorized as "high-risk" countries.

Now Ulfelder, ever the humble academic, noted that his forecast "presaged" the events in Bangui, but he's not claiming an outright victory because his working definition of coup doesn't include rebel victories over a government (military coups are more of what he's thinking of, though other definitions certainly would identify this weekend's events as a coup.)

In any event, given his strong track record, it's worth re-examining what he wrote last summer in Foreign Policy about what makes a country "at-risk":

Most countries in the top 20 land there because they are poor and have competitive authoritarian or partially democratic political regimes. Unsurprisingly, coups also turn out to be a recurrent problem; the risk is higher in countries that have experienced other coup attempts in the past several years, a factor common to the top eight countries on this list. Active insurgencies also increase the risk of a coup, and this factor affected the 2012 forecast for countries like Ethiopia, Mali, and Sudan. Ditto for civil wars and popular uprisings in regional neighbors and slow economic growth, common themes in several regions, including West and Central Africa.

Of course, the top of the list isn't the only part of it that deserves our attention. Statistical forecasts can also be useful when they surprise us in the other direction, suggesting that some risks aren't as serious as we thought.


Using statistics to forecast political events isn't as complicated as it sounds. At its core, it's all about recognizing the right patterns. Generally speaking, you start by building a list of similar events in relevant cases in the past; then you assemble data on likely risk factors; next, you use statistical techniques to generate an algorithm that captures useful patterns in those data; and, finally, you apply that algorithm to current data to get a forecast.

Well, it's worked all right thus far.